DMI Blog

Maureen Lane

Systems Out of Whack - Access Priorities

Access to resources separates the haves from the have-nots. The new president of the New York Bar Association, Mark H. Alcott notes in today's Times Union, "National studies and surveys show that 80 percent of the civil needs of the poor are not met." Alcott wants to help provide access to the legal system for the poor and disadvantaged. I commend him, his service and his association.

At Welfare Rights Initiative, I work with students who seek access to higher education. So often students need legal advocacy in order to pursue education and training. As I've blogged about before, WRI has a long standing collaboration with CUNY Law School through the Economic Justice Project, where second year law students are connected with CUNY undergrads receiving welfare to advocate for their right to education.

The Collaboration is unique and works both ways, that is to say, the law students and the undergrads benefit equally. Undergraduates receiving public assistance needing legal represenation at state hearings get an advocate and second year law students get the practice they need to become lawyers. Law students understand the student perspective and the needs for policy changes in a meaningful way and work collaboratively with undergrads to make those changes.

In the last eleven years, WRI has teamed up to work on policy with some extraordinary attorneys, not only from CUNY Law but Legal Aid and Legal Services to name a few groups, who dedicate their legal expertise to representing the poor and believe that we can do more collectively to cut the representation gap. I congratulate Mr. Alcott and honor all the lawyers who live their commitments every day. In addition, I encourage Mr. Alcott to think of adding another aspect to his term; that lawyers and grassroots thinking through how to do policy work together.

Access to resources, legal and educational is essential. Disastrously, too many people don't have it. Changing off kilter structures requires systems level shifts and adjustments. We want to work at the point where the problem is - with the agencies and people administering the law as well as the law itself. In the case of education, why aren't people being told, for example, that the law says that if certain (complicated) criteria are met they can already access the education or training they need? The whole Education, Welfare and Legal system needs to be reviewed as they apply to the poor and disadvantaged. Clearly they aren't serving us And since we need new ideas, the poor and disadvantaged are teaming with lawyers to review what works and what can work better and this is what we need more of.

We want systems level shifts and adjustments based on values and the vision we have of where we are going as a people, all of us without exception.

Maureen Lane: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 4:32 PM, Jun 16, 2006 in Economic Opportunity | Education | Welfare
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