Economic & Social Justice

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Economic and Social Justice Group:

The Economic and Social Justice Group advocates for low-income individuals in matters that threaten their economic stability and social welfare within the following practice areas:

Julie Balovich, Group Coordinator

CONSUMER Protection

The Consumer Protection Team's mission is to help low-income people protect their income and assets by providing representation, legal assistance, advocacy, advice, and education to those who are cheated by unscrupulous businesses or individuals. The team addresses a wide range of consumer issues, including unlawful repossession, student loans, payday and title loans, garnishments and receiverships, deceptive sales practices, fraudulent auto sales and repairs, shoddy home improvements, unfair debt-collection practices, home solicitations, and warranty and contract issues.

Services and Activities

  • Represent eligible consumers in state and federal courts;

  • Conduct financial literacy education training for low-income communities;

  • Collaborate with a variety of advocacy partners to educate consumers about unscrupulous business practices and the danger of high-interest loans by disseminating outreach material;

  • Comment on public rule-making that impacts low-income consumers.

Amy Clark, Team Manager

Elder Law

The Elder Law Team provides representation, advocacy, advice and assistance to people over 60 who are victims of financial exploitation and physical abuse.

Services & Activities:

  • In coordination with the public benefits teams, assists elders with reduction of provider hours, denial of home health care services, or denial of Medicaid benefits;

  • In coordination with the wills and estates team, assists elders with estate planning matters including advance directives;

  • Investigates and advises or assists in cases of elder financial exploitation or physical abuse;

  • Conducts Know Your Rights training in Community Centers, Senior Centers, and nursing homes;

  • Attends community fairs to provide information and outreach material;

  • Collaborates with advocacy partners to promote public awareness of elder rights;

  • Comments on public rule-making that impacts low income elders

Tracey Whitley, Team Manager

FEDERAL TAX

The Federal Tax Team helps low-income taxpayers exercise their rights in federal courts, including the United States Tax Court, and at all administrative levels of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). We assist low-income taxpayers with most disputes with the IRS, including when the IRS erroneously denies or offsets a refund or takes collection action that causes economic hardship.

Our project - known as the the Texas Taxpayer Assistance Project (T-TAP) - is a Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC) housed within TRLA. We are funded in part by a grant from the Taxpayer Advocate Service. Our mission includes providing outreach and other advocacy to protect low-income taxpayers from exploitation by unscrupulous tax return preparers, employers, and debt collectors.

Services & Activities

  • Represent low-income individuals in administrative proceedings before the IRS, including in correspondence examinations, office audits, audit reconsideration requests, innocent and injured spouse claims, collection due process hearings, and requesting other collection alternatives;

  • Represent low-income individuals in tax disputes before the U.S. Tax Court, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, and the U.S. District Courts;

  • Educate low-income and Limited English Proficiency (LEP) communities about federal tax rights and responsibilities through consultation, written materials, presentations, and public service announcements.

T-TAP generally does not provide tax return preparation.

Polly Bone, Team Manager

GUARDIANSHIP

The mission of the Guardianship Team is to serve individuals who are incapacitated or perceived to be incapacitated by ensuring that they have the ability to meet their physical, financial, and essential needs with minimal intrusion on their self-reliance and independence. The Guardianship Team also serves caregivers of children who do not have someone with legal authority available to care for them.

Services & Activities

  • Help people who are incapacitated meet their essential needs through supports, services, or, when necessary, guardianship or court orders;

  • Provide access to guardianship alternatives such as supported decision-making agreements through direct services;

  • Assist kin care providers with obtaining powers of attorney or other legal authority to care for minor children;

  • Represent caregivers of adults who are incapacitated in order to obtain guardianship when no alternatives exist;

  • Represent persons under guardianship in restoration and modification of guardianship to help them obtain maximum autonomy;

  • In collaboration with disability rights advocates and mental health programs, conduct legal clinics for people with intellectual disabilities and mental illness in order to help them access guardianship-alternative and self-determination documents;

  • Conduct community outreach and educational presentations on guardianship and alternatives to guardianship;

  • Challenge policies that discriminate against people with intellectual disabilities and diminished capacity by steering them into unnecessary guardianship;

  • Challenge policies that deny children who have no available parent or legal guardian access to education, medical care, public benefits, and other needs.

Julie Balovich, Team Manager

MICROENTERPRISES TEAM

The mission of the Microenterprises Team is to provide low-income entrepreneurs with legal services to help them form, maintain, or expand their small businesses, social enterprises or cooperatively owned businesses; to provide low-income entrepreneurs with the legal tools to create and retain assets to move out of poverty; and to promote economic development and community infrastructure development in low-income communities. 

Services & Activities

  • Help people who are working to create and retain assets and improve their economic prospects through entrepreneurship by providing referrals, counseling and services;

  • Provide direct legal services to low-income entrepreneurs who are starting and growing their businesses;

  • Develop legal resources for low-income entrepreneurs;

  • Provide legal services and support for entrepreneurs seeking to engage in non-exploitative forms of business such as cooperatively owned and managed enterprises;

  • Conduct community outreach and provide community legal education for the entrepreneurial community supporting microenterprise development.

For more information, please contact Team Manager Andrea Harrington at aharrington@trla.org.

Re-entry

The Reentry Team helps low-income individuals remove barriers to employment, housing, and credit issues related to criminal histories.

Services & Activities

  • Provide legal education and representation in expunction and nondisclosure cases and with correcting inaccurate criminal records;

  • Assist individuals with reinstatement of driver’s licenses; hardship surcharge waivers, and occupational licenses;

  • Assist individuals who are at risk of incarceration due to criminal justice debt;

  • In coordination with the Colonias & Real Estate Team, help individuals clear title to homesteads subject to bail bond liens.

  • Identify referral resources in Texas for housing and job training programs for reentry clients.

Sita Stone, Team Manager

Texas CBar

Texas CBAR supports the development of community infrastructure by providing expert legal resources to nonprofit organizations. The program provides pro bono referrals and direct services on non-litigation legal matters to nonprofits, especially those in underserved areas. For more information, please go to Texas CBAR’s website

TORTS & CIVIL LITIGATION

The mission of the Torts and Civil Litigation Team is to help low-income clients maintain their financial stability in the aftermath of costly legal or administrative problems such as auto accidents, civil litigation with private citizens, and penalties for municipal code violations.

Services & Activities

  • Provide responsive legal documents to people sued in car accident, personal injury, and general litigation cases to help them avoid default judgements;

  • Monitor automobile insurance companies for unfair denials of coverage and abusive prosecution tactics;

  • Ensure that auto insurance providers comply with their legal responsibilities when responding to accident claims;

  • Identify systemic abuse by government entities;

  • Provide people with the information and resources they need to resolve legal disputes with other private citizens;

  • Educate people about remedies available for a wide variety of problems that do not fall under other practice areas within TRLA.

Christine Trejo, Team Manager

WILLS & ESTATES

The Wills and Estates Team provides program-wide legal support to TRLA offices on matters concerning preparation of wills, will probate, administration of estates, and intrafamily property conveyances of inherited interests in property. Utilizing procedures provided by the Texas Estates Code, the team also assists in clearing title to homesteads, which allows clients to apply for favorable property tax treatment. For those clients with deteriorating homes, a clear title will facilitate the rehabilitation assistance process. When a client is unsure of how property is transferred after death, the team can advise whether property shall pass by contract or by testate or intestate succession. In conjunction with the Elder Law Team, the Wills and Estates Team also assists in the preparation of various medical-needs documents such as medical powers of attorney and directives to physicians.

Carlos Aguinaga, Team Manager