This morning, the Vice President spoke at a Middle Class Task Force Event that was co-hosted by the Department of Justice’s Access to Justice Initiative. He announced new steps that our Administration is taking in partnership with the legal community to strengthen foreclosure mediation programs, help veterans cope with legal challenges, and make it easier for workers to find a qualified attorney when they believe their rights have been violated.
First, the Department of Labor (DOL) and the American Bar Association (ABA) are launching a new partnership to help workers resolve complaints received by DOL’s Wage and Hour Division, such as not getting paid the minimum wage or overtime, or being wrongfully denied family medical leave. DOL resolves more than 20,000 of these complaints every year, but because of limited resources, there are thousands more they are unable to pursue. Starting next month, people whose cases cannot be pursued will be provided with a newly created toll-free number that will connect them with an ABA-approved attorney referral service so they can find a qualified lawyer to help with their claims.
Second, the Vice President announced a collaboration between the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Legal Services Corporation (LSC). In communities across the country, the VA’s Vet Centers provide counseling services to combat veterans. We are now connecting more than 50 of these Vet Centers with the LSC’s network of local legal aid offices, which provide free legal advice to folks who can’t afford to hire a lawyer. So when veterans come to Vet Centers and need help with problems ranging from foreclosure to employment issues, the staff will know where to send them.
The Legal Services Corporation also announced the launch of a new website – www.statesidelegal.org. This website is designed specifically for veterans and their families and they will be able to find information on everything from estate planning to disability benefits to the GI Bill.
Finally, the Vice President announced new steps to strengthen foreclosure mediation programs, which allow homeowners to meet face-to-face with lenders and discuss alternatives to foreclosure under the supervision of a neutral third-party mediator. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Access to Justice Initiative issued a report on mediation strategies that are working. In addition to outlining some best practices, the report includes a list of jurisdictions with successful programs that are eager to share their experiences with communities that are developing or expanding mediation programs.
HUD and NeighborWorks, the nation’s largest funder of foreclosure counseling services, also announced that they will each be providing new training for housing counselors, homeowners, attorneys, and mediators in order to make mediation programs even more effective.
As the Vice President said today, “In difficult economic times, we want to make sure all Americans—regardless of income or status—have access to the resources they need to pursue justice.”
Brian Levine is the Deputy Domestic Policy Advisor to the Vice President