What Happens When Life Issues Become Legal Issues?: National Service as a Solution to the Justice Gap

Justice Corps member DeAndre

Contributed by guest blogger Martha Wright, Senior Court Services Analyst for the California Administrative Office of the Courts and Statewide Co-Director of the California JusticeCorps, an AmeriCorps program that places diverse university students to assist overburdened courts with supporting self-represented litigants.

Nowhere is the effect of the current economic downturn more visible than in the halls of our nation’s courthouses.

Just as budget cuts are forcing courts to close their doors one or more days a month and furlough or even downsize staff, caseloads spurred by economic hardship are on the rise.

The legal issues proliferating these days involve tenants evicted because their landlord is in foreclosure; marriages pushed beyond the breaking point; collection notices on bills that can’t be paid; or loss of health insurance due to a lay off.

The Justice Gap

These life problems gone unresolved often become legal problems. And without the means to hire professional Continue reading

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College Cost Reduction Act – Basic Facts and New Resources to Help You

Campus building

Update, July 1, 2009! Check out this post about applying for Income-based repayment from your lender!

This July 1st, the College Cost Reduction and Access Act (CCRAA) of 2007 will take effect and includes provisions to make undergraduate and graduate education more affordable for aspiring social-impact professionals.

The CCRAA is a complicated piece of legislation that, if you take advantage of it, can help you retire college and grad school debt early.

The main programs that the CCRAA has created include:

Income-Based Repayment (IBR) — Caps monthly direct and guaranteed (FFEL) student loan payments based on the borrower’s income and family size. According to IBRinfo, “For most eligible borrowers, IBR loan payments will be less than 10 percent of their income – and even smaller for borrowers with low earnings. IBR will also forgive remaining Continue reading

New Podcast: AmeriCorps for Legal Experts – Equal Justice Works’s Cole McMahon and Marty Costello

picture-6In 2009, hundreds of emerging legal experts across the United States will offer assistance in helping people who face mortgage foreclosure and other problems through the Equal Justice Works 2009 Summer AmeriCorps program and the one-year AmeriCorps Legal Fellows program.

Every year in this country, four out of five low-income people in need of legal assistance are denied services because of overwhelming case loads at legal services offices and a dire shortage of attorneys who can help them.

Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps plays a crucial role in closing the gap between the supply and demand of legal assistance. AmeriCorps attorneys secure affordable housing, lost wages, orders of protection, health care, public benefits, adoption services, and education for low-income and underserved communities.

Today’s guests on Idealist podcast are Marty Costello, Program Manager, and Cole McMahon, Senior Program Manager, from Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps. They joined me to talk about the Summer Corps, a 300-hour AmeriCorps Education Award program for law school students, as well as its one-year, full-time AmeriCorps Legal Fellows program.

Download the podcast and listen!

The Equal Justice Works 2009 Summer Corps application opens today Wednesday, March 18 and closes Continue reading

Pres. Obama and Government Careers

images-4With record numbers of first-time voters and young people backing Obama’s presidency, perhaps a new generation of government workers will not be so hard to recruit after all.

With Baby Boomers retiring in droves over the next decade, fears have been widespread in public and nonprofit sectors that the United States will face a leadership shortage.

Not enough young people have shown an interest in government careers, and in-roads to government careers are not well known. Government has a reputation of being inefficient, less lucrative than business sector work, and very, very bureaucratic. People cite student loans that are just too high, and the need for better marketing of the compelling opportunities available in the government.

“This will not be a call issued in one speech or one program – this will be a central cause of my presidency. We will ask Americans to serve. We will create new opportunities for Americans to serve. And we will direct that service to our most pressing national challenges.”– U.S. President-Elect Barack Obama during a speech given at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs July 2, 2008.

John F. Kennedy inspired a generation of youth to serve through initiatives like Peace Corps. Will a new generation of people — young people and people who are recently discovering civic engagement — be inspired to join the ranks of an Obama-led federal government? What do you think?

If you are considering a career in government — whether you supported McCain or Obama during this election cycle — you should know about these resources:

President-Elect Obama has been particularly clear that his administration will count on the help of people who have supported his candidacy and on those who didn’t. Young people may accept this invitation by entering the government workforce. If they do so with the enthusiasm and turn-out they have shown in his election bid, the looming leadership crisis may fail to materialize.

AmeriCorps for Recent Public Interest Law Grads

Corps of recent law grads bring legal services to the poor

Equal Justice Works, an organization that fosters the public interest law career pipeline so the rest of us can sleep better at night, has recently sent off its newest AmeriCorps team to serve in 17 sites across the United States.

The Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Program acts to increase the availability of pro bono legal services in under-served communities. The program achieves its goal by engaging recent law school graduates, who connect the dots among legal aid workers, law schools, law students, and clients in need.

The AmeriCorps members also offer legal assistance to low-income clients, and thereby hone their skills practicing public interest law. They also help expand the public interest law emphasis in law school course content and offerings.

At $22K, the AmeriCorps stipend for the Equal Justice Works member is significantly higher than for most AmeriCorps programs. With the possibility of student loan deferments and the $4,725 Eli Segal AmeriCorps Education Award, participating in the program post-law school isn’t as costly as it seems at first glance. The program also connects participants with 500,000 other AmeriCorps Alums post-service.

Summer Corps

In addition to the year-long AmeriCorps program, Equal Justice Works organizes an AmeriCorps-funded Summer Corps for first- and second-year law students. The Summer Corps engages hundreds of short-term members in 300 hours of service. Members then receive a $1000 education award. Look for applications in the spring.

Equal Justice Works Fellows

Finally, check out the two-year Equal Justice Works Fellowship for law grads, which offers new lawyers support (financial and professional) to practice public interest law. According to the web site, “Recognizing that many obstacles prevent committed attorneys from practicing public interest law, including the dearth of entry-level jobs and daunting educational debts, the program provides financial and technical support to lawyers working on innovative and effective legal projects.”

Public interest law

To learn more about careers in public interest law, and to learn about law school, check out Equal Justice Work’s web site, and its E-Guide to Public Service at America’s Law Schools. Keep up with the latest news and trends in public interest law, law education, and EJW by subscribing to the Equal Justice Works blog.

Grad school for social change

This week, the Idealist.org Graduate Degree Fairs for the Public Good kick off the 2008 fall tour on September 10th in New York City!

(Please note that due to the Service Nation Summit‘s Presidential Candidates’s Forum on Sept. 11 at Columbia, the venue for the NY fair has changed!)

The fairs bring together graduate schools that focus on positive societal change, and public service professionals– like you? –who want more education to further their careers.

If you are thinking about grad school, it’s one of the best ways we can think of to meet staff from some of the country’s top schools in degrees ranging from nonprofit & business management and social work, to public policy & administration, public interest law, public health, journalism, international affairs and more.

If you don’t live near one of the cities where the fairs will come this year, check out the Idealist.org Public Service Graduate Education Resource Center with lots of resources for going back to school. Read here for information specifically for service corps alumni.

Looking for experience before going to grad school?

Graduate admissions staff recognize service corps programs as a great way to get valuable, practical experience in the field to prepare for grad school.

If you are considering participating in a service program, know that several programs have benefits that await you after you are finished with your term.

Programs funded through AmeriCorps offer the Eli Segal AmeriCorps Education Award; the amount varies depending on the term of service, but a full term typically means $4,725. (The amount hasn’t been increased in a over a decade, though RPCV Senator Christopher Dodd (D-Conn) and others in Congress are working to rectify that with the AmeriCorps Act of 2008.) The ed award is held by the National Service Trust until you are ready to use it, and can go towards tuition at most schools, or for student loans. Dozens of grad schools match the ed award so that your award may be doubled if you enroll at those schools.

Teach For America, an AmeriCorps program, has also fostered partnerships with many top graduate schools around the country that benefit TFA Corps members through application deferments, scholarships and ed award matches, and application fee waivers.

As we have written about before on this blog, Peace Corps also has two programs, Masters International and Fellows USA. The latter is specifically for people who have returned from Peace Corps service already.

A pretty good comparison (including education benefits) of some of the more famous service corps programs can be found in Chapter Five (PDF) of the Idealist.org Guide to Nonprofit Careers. Also check out Equal Justice Works blog about public interest law. Other associations of social-impact grad schools can be found among Idealist’s grad fair cosponsors.

Do you know of other benefits for service corps alumni not mentioned here? We’d love to hear about them!

Also Idealist is still looking for grad school bloggers! Click here to see if blogging for us sounds compelling to you!

Also note that many grad schools offer benefits to service corps alumni that aren’t through official partnerships with the service programs. It’s always a good idea to ask at your target institution.

The public sector path to loan forgiveness

When something sounds too good to be true, it’s all right to become suspicious.

Here’s the good news: if you work at a nonprofit, you can make your federal student loan debt go away in ten years as long as you work in the public service sector all that time and make 120 monthly payments on your student loan.

This is awesome news for public sector types with a high student loan debt and low income. There are a number of restrictions worth studying sooner than later. For example, your loans will have to go through the federal direct loan program. If you’re loans aren’t direct loans currently and you want to participate in the program, you’ll need to consolidate. It could well be worth it to you down the road if you are able to shave 15 years off your student loan!

The finaid.org article covers the process of consolidating your loans into direct loans as well as some words of caution for holders of Perkins loans and tax implications down the road when the balance of your loan is discharged.

Also check out Equal Justice Work‘s new blog on public interest law and loan forgiveness for public service employment.