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Minnesota Legal Aid Uses United Way COVID Funding to Help Navigate Unemployment, Stimulus Benefits & Housing Concerns

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United Way Staff


Every morning in Minnesota, our neighbors wake up to obstacles that keep them from getting the basic help they need. For more than 100 years, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid has provided underserved populations with equal access to the legal system- supporting and defending their basic rights. Last year, the organization helped more than 10,000 Minnesota families and individuals.

Recently, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid applied for and received an emergency third round grant from the Greater Twin Cities COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund to deliver services in new and creative ways, expand current services, and serve vulnerable populations. This third wave of grants, totaling $700,000, was distributed to 52 local nonprofits.

“Demand is definitely up due to the pandemic,” said Lisa Cohen, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid Deputy Director, Operations. “In April, we received nearly 9,000 phone calls and did more than 900 intakes- triple the normal volume.”

The organization is using the COVID-19 emergency grant to help people navigate unemployment insurance benefits, receive economic stimulus payments, and maintain stable housing.

For example, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid’s new Unemployment Insurance Project is using United Way funding to bring in extra interpreters to serve populations where English is not their primary language.

“Because the unemployment system is so overloaded, people who speak any language are frustrated and this is even worse for non-English speakers or clients with other barriers,” said Ellen Smart, Assistant Supervisor of the Unemployment Insurance Project. “With more interpreters, we can help more clients with applications, denials, and appeals.”

In addition, the organization’s Low-Income Tax Clinic is also the only of its kind in the state guiding low-income residents through the process of receiving economic stimulus payments.

“We want to ensure those who are unsheltered, veterans, people with disabilities, and seniors can access these stimulus checks,” said Assistant Supervising Attorney Aisha Servaty. “As we walk our clients through the forms, it’s amazing to hear the impact the payments will make on their lives.”

Legal Aid has also been fielding a high volume of calls from tenants facing housing instability due to the economic impact of the pandemic. While there is currently a moratorium on evictions in Minnesota, Legal Aid knows when it is lifted, there will be a spike in eviction filings.

“When evictions start again, we’ll need policies in place to make sure people aren’t exposed to increased danger,” said Managing Attorney Luke Grundman. “We’re preparing for that wave with staff and technology to show up and protect as many people as possible.”

“This is truly a time of great uncertainty, but one thing we do know is that the people we have the privilege to serve have deep and ever-growing needs,” said Deputy Director Greg Marita. “We are grateful for our long partnership with the United Way and in particular for this most recent grant that is helping us advocate so that members of our community can meet their most basic needs.”

About the Author

Greater Twin Cities United Way unites changemakers, advocates for social good and develops solutions to address the challenges no one can solve alone to create a community where all people thrive. Together with our partners, we’re meeting immediate community needs while transforming inequitable systems in the areas of housing, food, education and jobs.

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