Op-Ed: Find Help in Legal Aid

Unemployment, domestic violence, missing rent and getting food stamps are not new issues, but they are becoming more common as the pandemic continues. While there are doctors and nurses taking care of sick patients, there are others on the sidelines willing to help others negatively impacted by the effects of the pandemic. One of these helpers is the legal aid lawyer.

While these problems may not seem legal in nature at first glance, they are actually the exact issues that legal aid lawyers have been working on for decades. Legal aid is assistance provided by lawyers that is free or low-cost based on the client’s income. Legal aid can be a real asset right now for people, families and communities in need.

For example, if you aren’t sure if you qualify for SNAP benefits, a lawyer can help you apply.  If you were wrongfully denied an unemployment claim, a lawyer can help you with your appeal. If you are unable to afford rent, a lawyer can help you know your rights and negotiate with your landlord.  If you are dealing with a domestic abuser, a lawyer can help you file an order of protection.

Legal issues that aren’t dealt with tend to get worse as time goes on. A landlord may be more likely to negotiate with you now, before eviction courts open back up. You also shouldn’t miss unemployment payments or SNAP benefits because of wrongful denials. These appeals should happen quickly to help with your finances right away.

If you are interested in free or low-cost civil legal assistance, most legal aid programs are offering help remotely right now. These programs have income guidelines that you will need to meet in order to qualify. If you recently lost your job or were furloughed, your income is currently $0 and so you will likely qualify. If you don’t qualify for free legal assistance, agencies can often point you to lawyers that do low-cost or sliding scale services.

In Cook County, the best starting point for legal help is CARPLS legal aid hotline. CARPLS operates a free telephone hotline where people talk directly to attorneys who offer legal advice and assistance, and if you need further assistance, they can refer you to other legal aid programs that might be able to help. You can reach CARPLS at 312-738-9200.

In northern Illinois, the best starting point is Prairie State Legal Services. Prairie State Legal Services is an organization that offers free legal services for low income persons and those age 60 and over who have serious civil legal problems and need legal help to solve them. They have 12 office locations serving 36 counties in northern Illinois. You can apply for help online at www.pslegal.org or by contacting one of their local offices. See their website for contact information of local offices.

In southern Illinois, the best starting point is Land of Lincoln Legal Aid. Land of Lincoln provides free civil legal services to low-income individuals and senior citizens in 65 counties in central and southern Illinois. You can apply for help with them online at www.lincolnlegal.org or call them at 877-342-7891.

If you are a veteran in need of legal assistance, you can call the Illinois Armed Forces Legal Aid Network from anywhere in the state at 855-452-3526 to see if you qualify for free help.

If you have a civil (non-criminal) legal question, you can ask it for free on IL.FreeLegalAnswers.org and a volunteer lawyer will send you an answer. It is like a virtual legal clinic.

Additionally, www.IllinoisLegalAid.org has several articles, forms and resources to help you navigate government bureaucracy and the legal system.

Don’t let your legal problem get away from you. Reach out for help today.

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