Approximately 24%, or 34,000, of the population of Jackson County are low-income residents composed of the elderly; the chronically poor; the temporarily unemployed; the underemployed and the disabled. All of these low-income residents are potentially eligible clients. However, CNPLS only has the capacity to serve 1,200 residents out of the 3,600 who apply each year. Triage is performed every week as to who receives legal services. Referrals to other resources are made to every applicant who is not accepted for legal assistance. CNPLS provides the only source of civil representation for the poor in Jackson County. There is no other legal aid program available in Jackson County and the private bar cannot accommodate the needs of these people at an affordable cost.
Since 1972, this unmet legal need has been deemed an important community and governmental concern. The public, as well as the private sector, have provided funding to address this need. Approximately 66% of those served by CNPLS are poor women, most often single mothers with children. Although 40% of our clients are working, they remain at or below the federal poverty level.
Five licensed attorneys handle approximately 2,000 completed applications yearly. Low-income clients, at or below 125% of federal poverty index, with priority legal problems, which are accepted by our agency, receive direct legal representation.
Attorneys and support staff are organized into four specialty law units:
(1) Housing/Consumer (to prevent homelessness and to maintain safe and affordable housing);
(2) Family (to provide a peaceable means of resolving family conflicts);
(3) Public Benefits (to secure stable state and federal assistance and to secure fair and lawful treatment by government agencies);
(4) Employment/Individual Rights through the Immigration Law Project and Public Guardian Program (that concentrate on protecting individuals and families with special needs).
Since 1997, Jackson County has contracted with CNPLS to manage the County’s office of Public Guardian and Conservator Program, which concentrates on protecting individuals and families with special needs. This is a last resort program with a limited number of clients taken. Applications are accepted on a referral basis only.
Resolutions provided by CNPLS are often more long term than those from agencies which provide “emergency services”. The Domestic Unit provides peaceable means of resolving aggravated family conflicts that otherwise can result in spousal and/or child abuse or child snatching. The Public Benefits Unit provides community advocacy and client representation of denials or terminations of government benefits in the administrative tribunals and appellate courts. This is paramount in reducing income distress and securing stable state and/or federal assistance or services, i.e. Food Stamps and medical services for individuals and families. The Housing Unit prevents homelessness and eviction by negotiation and representation in the trial and appellate courts. The Immigration Law Project helps immigrants and farm workers with work authorizations deal with issues related to residency, citizenship and other related legal issues while allowing families to be safe, to remain together, and to work legally in this country.