In the Spirit of the Season
The impact of the September 11th attacks served to only intensify the on-going needs of less fortunate New Yorkers. The economic slowdown, which started before September 11th, has increased the number of jobless, raised the number of people living in poverty, and placed unprecedented pressure on the City´s facilities for the homeless.
And, as the economic pressures increase, the amount of funds available for legal services may well decline in the coming years. While federal funding may not be affected, the enormous looming deficits in the State and City budgets bode ill for local legal services funding, which had already been reduced in recent years from mid-90´ s levels. In addition, due to the low interest rates, grants to legal services providers from the IOLA fund are expected to be significantly lower in 2003.
When times were “good”, no more than 15% of the legal needs of New York’s poor were met. Now, there is a tremendous need for lawyers to do what they can do to help. The outpouring of lawyer volunteer time and contributions to assist 9/11 victims must be matched by a more broad-based effort.
The City Bar Fund has developed an extensive array of programs that draw upon volunteers to provide direct services to those in need. While over 3000 volunteers are helping nearly 2500 families and small businesses affected by the Trade Center attack, the Fund’s ongoing programs are helping many others. A full list of activities is presented in Barbara Berger Opotowsky´ s column on page 16. Here are two of the many stories of people whom the City Bar Fund helped during the past year through our programs:
Adjoa K. is a young Christian woman from Ghana. When she was 18, Adjoa´s father arranged for her to marry a very wealthy man who was already married. This man insisted that before their wedding, Adjoa undergo “circumcision,´ or female genital mutilation (“FGM” ). Adjoa protested but her father refused to listen. She was forced to flee to the United States.
Once in the US, Adjoa came to the City Bar Fund’s Refugee Assistance Program seeking representation. She was referred to a volunteer attorney, who argued successfully that Ms. K was persecuted on account of her religion, and her belonging to two groups: Ghanian women who oppose polygamous marriage and Ghanian women who are forced into marriages in which FGM is expected and who oppose the procedure. In March, 2002 Ms. K was granted asylum.
Ms. R was living in the Red Cross Family Respite Center (a homeless shelter) for six months. She had been denied public assistance because she failed to comply with child enforcement . However, she had copies of appointment notices from the Office of Child Support Enforcement, both of which were marked ” cooperated.” Ms. R was very concerned that her furniture, which was in storage, would be sold at auction as HRA had failed to pay the storage fees.
The City Bar Fund was able to get Ms. R´ s application for public assistance approved. She received over $3000 in retroactive benefits and an emergency grant to cover the furniture storage fees. With these payments, Ms. R. found an apartment and moved out of the shelter. She began working as a babysitter and her immediate goal is to get her high school diploma.
While many of our programs first identify a need and seek the volunteers to fill it, we also work the other way: our CityBar Public Service Network finds opportunities for lawyers who want to volunteer substantial time, and for law firms and corporate law departments looking to undertake a pro bono program. For more information on volunteering at the City Bar Fund or tailoring a volunteer opportunity with another organization, please contact the Network’s Director, Carol Bockner (212-382-4714; email@example.com).
Much of what the City Bar Fund can do depends on you. Many of our members have been very generous with their energies and with their contributions. We again ask that you think of us when you consider how to help those who are in great need.
To contribute, there is an envelope inserted on page 8 for your convenience. Please help make next year a better one. And I wish you and your families health, happiness and peace.