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Blue Ridge Legal Services, Inc.

Harrisonburg, VA

Amount Requested: $10,000 for Legal Assistance to Low-income Senior Citizens with Critical Legal Needs

Mission: Blue Ridge Legal Services, Inc. (BRLS) is a nonprofit charitable legal aid society providing free legal assistance in civil matters of critical importance to low-income residents of the Shenandoah Valley and Roanoke Valley. BRLS is committed to eliminating poverty-based inequities in the civil justice system by providing high-quality legal advice and representation to low-income residents of our service area, folks who would otherwise be unable to obtain legal help due to their poverty.

Constituents Served: We provide free legal assistance to residents of our service area (25 cities and counties in western Virginia, from Frederick County in the north to Franklin and Craig counties in the south) whose household income is less than 125% of the current federal poverty guidelines. For households with incomes of up to 200% of the federal poverty guidelines, we allow certain expenses to be deducted (e.g., child support payments, garnishments, child care costs) from their gross income to see if their adjusted net income falls below 125% of the poverty guidelines. We also consider the household’s significant disposable assets, if any. We served 2252 clients last year throughout our service area. This included 364 residents of Staunton, Augusta Co., and Waynesboro (“SAW”). Of these clients, 3 were under the age of 18. 269 were between 18 and 59. 92 were aged 60 or older.

Program Overview: This grant would help to sustain an effort to make free legal assistance more accessible to low-income senior citizens of Staunton, Augusta County, and Waynesboro (“SAW”), particularly in matters of critical importance to their autonomy, their quality of life, and their safety and security. The grant would help support a half-time elderly services attorney at Blue Ridge Legal Services, allowing us to provide free legal assistance to an additional 10-13 low-income SAW senior citizens in the grant year.  It is important to note that while the government provides free legal counsel to the poor when they are accused of crimes, there is no court-appointed lawyer for low-income persons facing civil legal crises not involving criminal wrongdoing.

Additionally, our senior citizens face the distinct threat of being marginalized under the law in their older years if they can no longer afford legal counsel when it is needed. Our low-income senior clients are often frail or disabled, requiring special attention in the counseling and handling of their legal problems. Their legal issues, of critical importance to their health, well-being and quality of life, are myriad. They are frequently preyed upon, exploited or abused by unscrupulous businesses or individuals. They are faced with many additional issues most prevalent with the elderly: the need for wills, guardianship, etc. They confront complicated health care issues involving Byzantine federal regulations and administrative processes like the Medicaid program. They face the increased likelihood of large medical bills, and many fear destitution or the loss of their homes and property due to debts. Many must deal with the need for home health care and long-term care, issues involving institutionalization and quality of care in nursing homes, with all the concomitant bureaucracies, regulations, and appeals.

Current Operating Budget: $2,253,954

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