Opt Out – What do you think?

There’s an article in the Free Times that features Commissioner Sue Berkowitz. It focuses on the Opt Out idea that is currently circulating in D.C. regarding the Health Care Reform Package.

Some statistics from the article:

Currently, South Carolina ranks 48th in the country in overall health, according to data from the United Health Foundation. The state ranks near the top in such categories as stroke deaths, infant mortality and percentage of uninsured children and near the bottom of such lists as access to prenatal care and percentage of healthy children.

Also, approximately one in six South Carolinians are uninsured, according to Census data, and 80 percent of the uninsured are from working families, according to Families USA.

Tell us what you think:


Don’t Get Hurled Away by a Hurricane!

Hurricane 09

Hurricane season is here! (June 1-November 30) 

A hurricane can have potentially long lasting and devastating effects if you are caught unprepared.  It is not difficult to take steps before a hurricane hits to protect you and your home, but dealing with the aftermath of a hurricane when you did not prepare can be a long painful process.  Don’t wait until a hurricane is on its way toward your home town; take the time now to secure the safety of you and your family so you are not caught off-guard by a hurricane this season.  In South Carolina, the South Carolina Emergency Management Division is a great place to start to prepare for a disaster.

Steps to take before a hurricane hits (FEMA):

  1. Secure your home with permanent storm shutters or plywood.
  2. Make sure your roof is securely fastened to the frame structure of your home.
  3. Trim trees and shrubs.
  4. Clean out rain gutters and downspouts.
  5. If you have a boat, secure it.
  6. Build or determine which room in your house is the most secure in case of an emergency.
  7. Make copies of your personal records including Social Security Card, Birth Certificate, Passport, etc.  Give the copies to relatives in another state or keep them stored electronically where they can be accessed from anywhere.

How to get help after a hurricane hits (National Disaster Legal Aid):

  1. A list of local organizations that can help can be found at www.lawhelp.org
  2. If you lose your ID, passport, Social Security card, or other important documents you can find out how to replace them at www.uslegalforms.com/life-documents.htm
  3. Sometimes homes are destroyed or inaccessible in the wake of a hurricane and families are not able to return home.  The US Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Public and Indian Housing and FEMA have programs that provide temporary housing.
  4. Families that are displaced due to hurricane might have problems finding employment.  The Disaster Unemployment Assistance Program gives assistance through unemployment benefits.  You cannot be eligible for these benefits if you already receive unemployment.  Visit their website for eligibility requirements.
  5. If you are displaced because of a hurricane then your children will need to find a temporary school to meet their education needs.  www.serve.org/nche/downloads/dis_hb/parents.pdf.
  6. Disaster food stamps assistance is available in the wake of a hurricane.
  7. Legal aid attorneys can help with landlord/tenant issues, contractor disputes, insurance issues and more.
  8. Other websites that can help in disaster preparedness:
    1. www.redcross.org
    2. www.abanet.org/disaster
    3. www.nilc.org/disaster_assistance/index.htm


BLOG ACTION DAY 2008: Spotlight on POVERTY-in-LAW

I signed up to write about poverty for Blog Action Day 2008 a few weeks back and the possibilities seemed endless and somewhat overwhelming. Then I considered the phrase “write about what you know.” Well, my professional life has been absorbed with access to justice and its mission – expand and enhance legal representation to South Carolinians with low income. Luckily it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that this is THE poverty topic for me!

To get there, it’s time for a little background on me. Please indulge me.

My parents modeled philanthropy for me. From an early age, I learned that giving to someone in greater need than you felt really good. In my early teens, I worked as a candy striper and visited nursing homes with my church youth group in addition to dropping off goods at my local Goodwill store. Years passed and I kept the spirit alive continuing to do charitable works, but it didn’t hold the same meaning for me.

That’s when I sat on a jury. All of a sudden I realized that law held a lot of power over most of us – at some point in our lives. It dawned on me that I could go to law school and help people in the process. ( I had been a travel agent for over 11 years and had transferred me from Chicago to Greenville, SC.) Mind you, my friends called me out and said “Law school? To help people? Lawyers don’t help people.” I held my ground.

I studied for my LSAT and sent away for my undergrad records, completed paperwork, and updated my shots. I considered how to pay for law school and reasoned I could sell my house and use what little equity I had to help buy books and pay tuition. I applied. And I got in. Whew!

Oh yeah, I quit my job.

And started at the USC School of Law. As a 1L at age 34. And I went to meet Pamela D. “Pam” Robinson my very first day. She got me started with pro bono in law school right away. And she kept me busy, er, I stayed busy with pro bono throughout law school. I had the pro bono bug so to speak. I was a vounteer advocate for SisterCare, a guardian ad litem for Richland County CASA, and worked on special projects for the SC Bar to name a few things.

After law school I started working at a private, non-profit organization, Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities, Inc. (P&A). Although a requirement for becoming a client was to have a disability, many times my clients were also living below, at or barely above the federal poverty guidelines. Why? Because many of them were denied employment due to their disability aka disability discrimination. Others had unimaginable monthly or weekly medication bills and even if there were recipients of either Medicaid or Medicare, they were still unable to purchase ALL their meds. And don’t forget about housing disability discrimination, even in HUD housing. There were lawsuits based on transportation discrimination. Abuse and neglect. Firsthand I witnessed degrading and deplorable living conditions for people with mental illness and cognitive impairments whose living arrangements were supplemented by SSI and OSS.

These individuals were and many of them are living in poverty. Which brings us back to the topic at hand. I came to the South Carolina Access to Justice Commission to assist those very people and others like them living in poverty.

  • Battling discrimination assists people in poverty.
  • Working as a pro bono attorney assists people in poverty.
  • Providing self-represented litigants with appropriate materials assists people in poverty.
  • Supporting legal services assists people in poverty.
  • Providing legal assistance to the homeless assists people in poverty.
  • Supporting the Bar Foundation assists people in poverty.

How? People in poverty are subject to daily stress. Where will I work? How can my child eat? How do I get to this job interview? How do I pay my car insurance? Which medication do I pay for – my heart medication or my anti-psychotic medication?

Bench, Bar and public can assist people in poverty by supporting ACCESS TO JUSTICE. When people in poverty show up at your door and have dreadful stories of discrimination, offer them hope. Refer them to their local Legal Services Intake line (in SC) to request assistance. Refer them to the court’s website for forms (in SC). Send them to SC Appleseed Legal Justice Center for material. Take a look at resources. AND DO NOT GIVE UP!

There are many of us who are battling poverty , in ways familiar to us. We’re forming partnerships and alliances. South Carolina Access to Justice is battling poverty by way of the law. Join us, won’t you?


Robin Wheeler aka RFW
Robin Wheeler aka RFW