Six Months In, Legal Aid’s Unemployment Project Has Returned $30,000 in Benefits to Low-Wage Workers
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Drake Hagner, Equal Justice Works Fellow

Starting June 9, hundreds of District residents will lose their extended unemployment benefits.  On that date, federal funds providing supplemental financial support to those having exhausted their regular unemployment benefits will dry up.

For most everyone, losing a job is a stressful event. But job losses can be devastating for low-wage workers who survive paycheck to paycheck.  Many workers are two weeks away from not being able to afford medications and bus fare.  Families are only one month away from not being able to pay their rent or utilities and facing an eviction notice.

Unemployment benefits provide a crucial safety net for poor families in the District of Columbia.  Families rely on these benefits to pay for necessities like food and shelter. While the overall unemployment rate in the District is slowly declining, unemployment rates in our city’s low-income communities remain very high.  In Ward 8, unemployment is still over 20% -- more than twice the overall unemployment rate for the rest of the city.

Since November of 2011, Legal Aid has helped eligible low-wage workers obtain unemployment benefits.  In this new project, supported by Arnold & Porter LLP through Equal Justice Works, Legal Aid counsels low-wage workers and provides representation at hearings before Administrative Law Judges.  So far, we have recouped nearly $30,000 in unemployment benefits for low-wage workers.

One recent client was a veteran and a cancer survivor. He was let go from his job after he took time off to recover from a recent cancer diagnosis and side effects from treatment. He came to Legal Aid after he applied for unemployment and was denied.  We represented him at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge.  After the Judge heard testimony from our client and his former employer, she awarded benefits because he lost his job through no fault of his own.  Now that he is recovered from treatment, he can look for work and collect unemployment.

It is terrible to lose a job, but even worse to be denied crucial benefits to which you are entitled.  Through our new unemployment insurance project, Legal Aid is helping workers access the crucial safety net benefits that help keep families afloat after a job loss.

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