New Hampshire Legal Assistance

Helping to balance the scales of justice for everyone since 1971.

NHLA clients testify on state budget proposal

Posted May 08, 2019

Dozens of former New Hampshire Legal Assistance clients spoke out this year about the importance of funding for our legal aid programs. One, Forest, a single mom in Portsmouth, spoke to the NH Senate Finance Committee yesterday. Here's what she told them:

Good afternoon. I am a resident of Portsmouth, and I've come here today to ask you to support full funding for New Hampshire Legal Assistance. Every day, NHLA provides sorely needed civil legal advice and/or representation to the poorest, most vulnerable citizens of our state. Although it's these citizens - primarily the elderly, the disabled, and young families trying to get by in the lowest paying of jobs - that utilize the agency, in the end, we all benefit. By way of explanation, I'd like to share my own personal story:

I am currently a 47 year old terminally ill single mother. My sole income is through Social Security Disability Insurance, and totals less than $1,100 per month. Subsidized public housing is the only housing I can afford. For the past several years, I've paid 30% of my income to rent a 2-bedroom apartment through Portsmouth Housing Authority (PHA). It isn't ideal, but I am no less thankful for it.

Last year, during a routine recertification, my rent was calculated at nearly three times what I had been paying, with no concurrent increase to my income. An mistake had been made, and if it had been allowed to stand, it would have priced me out of the cheapest form of housing available. I went through the PHA's internal grievance procedure, making sound arguments every step of the way, but to no avail. On the verge of becoming homeless, along with my 16 year old daughter, and knowing the domino effect of destruction that can create, I went to my local courthouse for advice. As a result, I filled out the online application for NHLA. I was not hopeful.

I had multiple responses within 24 hours. A local lawyer was assigned to investigate, and I was on the phone with her in less than 48 hours. I delivered copies of all my corroborating documentation to her office the next day. The following wee, when we met in person for the first time, it was obvious to me that she had taken the time to read the paperwork I'd provided with care. She kept in close touch, did nothing without my prior approval, and never underestimated my input. In the end, my NHLA lawyer was able to reach an agreement with the PHA without any court involvement. 

Without NHLA, I would have had to represent myself in court with no guarantee of the same positive outcome. Where would we have lived? What would we have done with the things we owned, if we had no home to keep them in? What would that have done to my already fragile health? How would that have affected my daughter? This is the perfect set-up for a less stable, less independent family - and for generational poverty. Avoiding that outcome is how we all benefit, not just as taxpayers but as a society. 

It's been said that the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members. Last year, NHLA helped more than 6,000 people. Hundreds more were turned away because NHLA simply did not have the resources to do the right thing. If we allowed their funding to dwindle, would you be comfortable with what that says about New Hampshire?