A legal safety net in times of crisis

A message from Legal Aid of Nebraska’s Executive Director Milo Mumgaard:

During today’s coronavirus crisis, Legal Aid of Nebraska is our legal safety net.

From the first days when Nebraska schools closed and our streets rolled up, Legal Aid’s passionate staff and volunteers have demonstrated this role like never before. Even during a public health emergency, life for our low-income clients goes on. Evictions, low wages, garnishments, unpaid bills, denied health care, family instability – these personal crises continue. And as our times have turned darker and the future grows ever more uncertain, Legal Aid staff have quickly adapted to serve as many people as we can through remote client consultations, virtual clinics, and representation in telephonic emergency hearings. We have insured our vulnerable clients are not forgotten.

Now, as we look into the months ahead, Legal Aid’s role as the legal safety net is more important than ever. The deeper we get into the COVID-19 pandemic, the more challenges we uncover regarding the health and economic hardships facing our communities. It is now clear that the COVID-19 outbreak in Nebraska is leaving countless people with new and unanticipated civil legal challenges: securing unemployment benefits, staying housed, guarding against abuse and much more.

A likely surge in demand on our legal services will dwarf all previous caseloads, especially with unemployment at levels not seen since the Great Depression, while civil legal problems multiply in the fallout. This call for our services will not just be from families long enmeshed in poverty; we will see thousands of Nebraska families who will be eligible for our services for the first time. An unprecedented number will need help identifying eligibility for unemployment and family leave benefits, as well as appealing wrongfully denied claims. Most have never before had to navigate the public benefits system; and without legal assistance, far too many will not obtain their rightful benefits to weather job losses, reduced hours, and illness.

The bottom line is Legal Aid is the only statewide legal organization with the capacity to take on the intensifying and diverse range of civil legal issues now undercutting thousands of households – but we will not do it alone. While Legal Aid has the expertise, experience, and leadership to respond, and knows how to use the law to foster real hope and opportunity for our fellow Nebraskans, we will not do it by ourselves.

We will do it working in partnership with you, our friends and colleagues; not only within the Bar but across Nebraska society. Nebraska’s legal safety net in the coming months will certainly stretch and strain, but it will not break. Legal Aid, with your help, will be there.

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