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Be sure to check back regularly to get our latest news updates.

As the weather outside takes a downward dive, there are plenty of ways to lift spirits this holiday season. It’s time to spread warm wishes and cheer.

For nonprofit organizations around the world, year-end giving is a major boost to help reach giving goals.

While we can’t control what happens in 2020, we can all take steps toward remaining positive even on the most challenging days.

Spotlight PA - Despite a federal eviction ban, whether or not families get kicked out often comes down to where they live, and which judge happens to hear their case. Under an order issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tenants who qualify cannot be evicted if they sign a declaration form and send it to their landlord. But in Pennsylvania, a Spotlight PA investigation found an inconsistent system of justice across the 67 counties, leaving many vulnerable residents without the protections they were promised. All told, despite the federal order, whether or not families get kicked out of their homes often comes down to where they live, and which judge happens to hear their case.

Morning Call - Pennsylvania residents who apply for pandemic unemployment assistance will be asked to work with an outside company to verify their identity as part of an ongoing effort to combat fraud, state officials said Tuesday.

The state Department of Labor & Industry earlier this month announced it contracted with the security firm to develop a more stringent identity verification process for PUA applicants.

Labor & Industry Secretary Jerry Oleksiak said applicants for PUA will now receive a notification that they must contact to verify their identities before payments are made. After the verification process is complete, payments may be released.

Pennsylvania officials said they halted payments to new applicants Sept. 21 after flagging a surge in suspected fraudulent applications while they worked to beef up identification checks.

A group of housing rights advocates were distributing info to tenants facing an eviction hearing at Magisterial District Court 12-1-01 in Susquehanna Township on Wednesday. - The group, Greater Harrisburg Area Tenants United, was out to ensure that those tenants facing eviction know their rights – and that thanks to federal action they might be able to protect themselves from eviction if they have been struggling to make rent. “We’re here today to help keep tenants in their home this winter,” said Veronica Adams, a member of Greater Harrisburg Area Tenants United. “About 20 evictions are happening here at this court today, and we’re going to try to give them the CDC forms that allows them to stay in their homes until the end of December.”

On Sept. 1, the Center for Disease Control announced a temporary halt nationwide on evictions due to failure by the tenants to pay rent. The moratorium on such evictions was to last through the end of 2020 and was designed to protect those financially impacted by the coronavirus pandemic from suddenly finding themselves homeless – and at even higher risk of catching and spreading COVID-19.

FTC - Nobody likes getting debt collection calls. But have you ever gotten one for a debt you already paid — or you know isn’t yours? Or have you been threatened and harassed by a debt collector until you paid up? If so, we want you to know how to protect yourself.

Today, in partnership with federal and state law enforcement partners, the FTC announces Operation Corrupt Collector, a federal-state law enforcement sweep against fake and abusive debt collectors. The operation includes five FTC actions, with two new cases announced today.

PITTSBURGH — The federal government announced a moratorium on evictions nationwide, but there is plenty of confusion over how it applies to Pennsylvania, if it even does at all. Pa.'s eviction moratorium ended Aug. 31, but the CDC announced it would extend a “nationwide” eviction ban through the end of the year. The new federal moratorium requires renters to make under $99,000 per year, have a loss of wages due to the pandemic and exhaust all other resources for assistance.

Social Security Administration - The most effective way to defeat scammers is to know how to identify scams. You should just hang up on any call you’re uncertain of and ignore suspicious emails. Scammers are always finding new ways to steal your money and personal information by exploiting your fears.

One common tactic scammers use is posing as federal agents and other law enforcement. They may claim your Social Security number is linked to a crime. They may even threaten to arrest you if you do not comply with their instructions. Just hang up.

WATERTOWN — The unsolicited call opens with, “This is an apology ...”

An apology from a stranger with a robot-sounding voice should be the first hint that the call is a scam. But the voice continues, saying they’re from the local utility service and that the customer being called has been overcharged and that a rebate is in order. The customer is instructed to call a number to claim those funds.

Such calls have been circulating to some Watertown-area households and to other areas like Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission issued a warning in June about the “Questionable rebate check robocalls from retail suppliers.”

Pennsylvania Capital-Star - Bill Christian had a sense of foreboding when Pennsylvania officials moved to prevent evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, first with a series of emergency orders and then with a flawed rental assistance program from the legislature.

“I thought, ‘that sounds wonderful, but eventually this bill is going to come due,’” said Christian, who runs Bethesda Mission, a shelter and recovery center for men experiencing homelessness in Harrisburg. “This was the proverbial kicking the can down the road.”

The pent-up disruption to Pennsylvania’s housing market is poised to burst on Tuesday, when courts will be allowed to receive new eviction claims for the first time in six months.

New York Times - The safety net is starting to unravel.

At the end of the month, struggling Americans could lose the extra $600 per week they’ve been receiving in unemployment insurance. Some eviction protections are already expiring.

And as people scramble to afford basic needs, hunger looms.

Tens of millions of Americans are in danger. According to Census Bureau Pulse Survey data released this week, 10.8 percent of American adults are experiencing some level of food insecurity. Louisiana, Nevada and Ohio had the highest rates: 17 to 18 percent. Food lines have been a feature of newspaper front pages and home pages for months now.

And yet there is a program that may be able to help millions of struggling Americans. One that was underused even before the coronavirus crisis: food stamps, or as they are known in most places now, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

New York Times - If you have a mortgage and can’t afford to pay it because of fallout from the coronavirus, you may be able to push off your payments for several months, or even into next year. But if you’re struggling to pay your rent, your options are probably much more limited. - Financial effects of the COVID-19 pandemic still may have you in a rut when it comes to paying rent. Maybe you’ve missed the last few payments and you’re now fearing eviction.

We asked, are landlords able to proceed with this action during the pandemic when so many are struggling? Hear the explanations by Attorney Matt Rich on the eviction moratoriums.

If you know you’re not headed for eviction but still need to get caught up on payments, financial options are becoming available to struggling renters and those unemployed. Remember to always communicate with your property manager or landlord and diligently look for payment solutions.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - Friday is the last day a statewide, temporary halt on evictions is in effect — and advocates fear that when the moratorium ends, it could bring a wave of evictions, putting people out of their homes amid the still-ongoing pandemic. Tenants in some federally-subsidized properties are protected until July 25.

“We're really expecting a flood of these [eviction filings],” said Megan Stanley, director of Pittsburgh's Commission on Human Relations, based on trends in past court filings.

Housing advocates are particularly concerned because evictions can result in a host of problems: tenants can wind up being homeless, as well as unable to find stable housing in the future because of the eviction filing against them.

PENNSYLVANIA, USA — Renters who were financially impacted by the economic slowdown during the COVID-19 pandemic are able to access applications for rent relief, according to a release.

Starting June, 20, the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency will be accepting applications via their website until Sept. 30.

NBC News - Sada Jones anxiously paces inside her apartment every time she catches a glimpse of her building’s maintenance workers through a damaged glass patio door half boarded up with scrap wood that she says her landlord refuses to repair. Jones, 23, a hotel cook, has been unable to make rent payments on her New Orleans-area apartment since being furloughed on March 19 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, she alleges, her landlord began using aggressive tactics to force her out, including cutting off her utilities and sending maintenance workers to demand she leave.

Law 360 - COVID-19 is not only a health crisis. It is also a legal aid crisis. A huge justice gap existed well before COVID-19 — with over 80% of people at or near the poverty line having at least one unmet legal need. COVID-19 widened the gap. COVID-19 disrupted the ability of legal aid providers to serve those who needed help before the pandemic. It also created a whole new set of legal needs — and people who need but cannot afford legal help — with its tremendous impact on people's families, jobs, health and school.

Even amid the COVID-19 crisis, however, there is reason for hope. Crisis brings opportunity. This is true with COVID-19. The legal community just needs to harness the opportunity COVID-19 presents for enhancing and expanding legal aid.

The Spokesman-Review - Most of us understand that the coronavirus presents a health crisis, an economic crisis and a social crisis. But for those at the bottom of the economic scale, it could also turn into a legal crisis. People denied unemployment insurance, or faced with eviction after the eviction ban ends, or buried in debt when garnishments resume, or trapped in the web of court proceedings after being the victim of domestic violence – all may find themselves in need of a lawyer they cannot afford. All may find themselves facing supercharged versions of the poverty-related challenges that afflict people who have no access to legal aid for civil procedures.

Capital-Star Op-Ed Contributor- Before COVID-19, millions of Pennsylvanians struggled to get by each month. Across the Commonwealth, people face barriers to employment or have severe disabilities that keep them from working.

Families face eviction, causing medical problems for children, including asthma and behavioral health issues, and leaving them at greater risk. Senior citizens lack running water and heat in their homes, leaving them vulnerable. These things happen every day, even in the best of times.

These are not the best of times.

COVID-19 and the necessary mitigation measures designed to protect public health have been a one-two punch of devastation for vulnerable households. Many people have lost their jobs and income, making it impossible for them to pay their rent or mortgage. Frontline service workers are risking their health, although many cannot access medical care because of a lack of insurance. Families in crisis are struggling to stay afloat.

Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf has amended an order that bans foreclosures and evictions until July 10.

The updated text now makes clear that only proceedings related to financial harm caused by the coronavirus pandemic are halted, while others can continue as normal. - “I am protecting housing for Pennsylvanians who may be facing economic challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Wolf said in a statement.

“My order will not affect proceedings for other issues, such as property damage or illegal activity. I encourage all Pennsylvanians to continue abiding by the terms of their lease or mortgage.”

York Dispatch -Some of York County's 19 magisterial district judges have partially resumed landlord-tenant eviction cases, but they are taking different approaches — and none is accepting any new cases until mid July.

That's because even though the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's order barring tenant evictions for financial reasons amid the COVID-19 pandemic expired on May 11, Gov. Tom Wolf issued an executive order May 7 stating that no new landlord-tenant cases can be filed until July 10.

Three York County judges, as well as two local attorneys who regularly train district magisterial district judges on landlord-tenant issues, agree that because Wolf's order failed to address landlord-tenant cases filed prior to May 11, at least some of those cases can now move forward.

Pennsylvania Capital Star - More than 1.86 million Pennsylvanians who receive federal food assistance may soon be able to get groceries delivered to their doors, the state’s human services chief confirmed Tuesday.

Officials in the state Department of Human Services said Pennsylvania has been accepted into a federal pilot program that allows people enrolled in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, to use their monthly benefits allowance to pay for groceries online.

Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller told reporters Tuesday that the state is still finalizing a timeline to roll out the program, after receiving word late Monday that federal regulators accepted their application to join.

InsideAlerts - With jobless claims topping an unprecedented 30 million and counting, nearly half of American workers may be unemployed by mid-May.

We are already in a recession; the only uncertainty is how bad it will get — and how long it will last.

Meanwhile, one group of workers who were facing a permanent recession long before COVID-19 is those facing the Scarlet Letter of a criminal record. Indeed, heading into the pandemic, formerly incarcerated people were already facing a 27 percent unemployment rate, higher than any U.S. unemployment rate including during the Great Depression.

While felony records carry perhaps the greatest stigma, any record — including misdemeanors and even charges that were dropped — can be a long-term roadblock to employment, since nearly nine in 10 U.S. employers now use background checks. People with records are half as likely to get a callback or job offer as a result.

The Legal Intelligencer-Paul D. Edger, managing attorney of the Carlisle, Chambersburg and Gettysburg offices of MidPenn Legal Services, became the chair-elect of the PBA young lawyers division. Edger began his involvement in the PBA YLD over a decade ago. He served for two years as the YLD treasurer and for three years as a co-chair of the YLD’s Zone Three.

For the past year, he served on behalf of the YLD in the PBA House of Delegates.
Edger acted a juror, attorney advisory and presiding judge in the PBA Statewide High School Mock Trial Competition, which is coordinated by the YLD.

He offered free legal services as part of Wills for Heroes, a program co-sponsored by the YLD that provides free wills and estate planning documents to first responders and military veterans.

Reading Eagle - The state Department of Human Services announced Friday that it is launching the Emergency Assistance Program to help low-income families who lost wages because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Families who qualify for the program will receive a one-time payment to assist them in meeting their basic needs and secure a more stable financial footing. - An executive order signed by Gov. Tom Wolf on Thursday extends foreclosure and eviction protections for Pennsylvanians through July 10 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

During a news conference that was scheduled to be held later Thursday, Wolf was expected to outline the details along with the state’s attorney general, Josh Shapiro.

“The action builds on a Pennsylvania Supreme Court order which closed court eviction proceedings until May 11 and ensures no renter or homeowner will be removed from their home for 60 more days,” a press release from Wolf’s office said - A multi-agency plan providing quarantine space in York County for people who cannot self-isolate has been deployed in response to the novel coronavirus. This alternative sheltering option exists for homeless individuals, those living in congregate housing and others who have been determined by their healthcare provider or case manager as being unable to self-isolate in their current housing situation, according to a press release.

Harrisburg, PA - Paul D. Edger, managing attorney of the Carlisle, Chambersburg and Gettysburg offices of MidPenn Legal Services, will become the chair-elect of the Pennsylvania Bar Association (PBA) Young Lawyers Division (YLD) at the conclusion of the association’s May 8 House of Delegates meeting.

New York Times - The federal government’s stimulus checks were meant to help people exactly like Krystle Phelps of Owasso, Okla.

She and her husband, Christopher, who have two children, recently lost their incomes after Oklahoma shut down the bars near Tulsa that she cleaned and that he supplied with vending machines. But when Ms. Phelps, 33, went to the I.R.S. website to check on the status of her family’s stimulus funds, she learned someone else had filed taxes on her husband’s behalf and used his identity to obtain their $3,400 payment.

York Dispatch - Since COVID-19 forced York County Court into judicial emergency, shutting down many daily functions, its common pleas judges have been able to hold more than 50 proceedings so far using videoconferencing.

And that number is continuing to grow, according to York County President Common Pleas Judge Joseph C. Adams.

"Due process doesn't stop because of a pandemic," he said. "When you have a situation like this you have to be creative. I hadn't even heard of Zoom a month ago."

CLASP Blog Post - In late March, lawmakers passed a third coronavirus response package called the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that offers a first step in essential economic relief for millions of workers and people with low incomes. One component is the economic impact rebate payments. Despite wide news coverage about these payments, many have questions about who’s eligible and how to receive the payments. Below are ten things to know about these payments:

Philadelphia Inquirer - Newly unemployed — and uninsured — individuals may be eligible for a plan through the federal marketplace, Others may have low enough family incomes to qualify for Medicaid.

Even if you anticipate being rehired in a few months, it’s worth finding out if you are eligible for another insurance plan, said Antoinette Kraus, executive director of Pennsylvania Health Access Network (PHAN), which helps people enroll in plans and Medicaid.

LANCASTERONLINE - Emergency protection from abuse orders are followed up by a hearing to determine whether to extend the order. Many of those hearings have been pushed back until mid April.

In the meantime, the emergency orders are still valid, said Laurie L. Baughman, deputy director of MidPenn Legal Services.

Domestic Violence Services continues to help victims file for emergency orders. MidPenn Legal Services then works with them before the final hearing, Baughman said. She also manages the nonprofit’s Lancaster office.

“We just want to make sure that people are aware that this is available. Even though it seems like everything is shut down, there is protection available,” Baughman said, “and that victims can get that protection even in these times of limited services.”

Lancaster Online - Christian Carlisle is among those who suddenly found themselves out of work in March as businesses were forced to shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since he lost his job at Brubaker Kitchens on Manheim Pike, the 29-year-old Lancaster city resident has applied for unemployment as he tries to find odd jobs to support his family, which includes his girlfriend, Amber, and their 2-month old baby Juliette.

Carlisle has been trying not to get too worried about the situation, but today is the first day of a new month, which means he owes $895 in rent that he knows he can’t afford.

New York Times - Its components include stimulus payments to individuals, expanded unemployment coverage, student loan changes, different retirement account rules and more. - It’s hard to quantify just how many more people are using the region’s food pantries as a result of the coronavirus, but anecdotally, Amy Hill is hearing the need has tripled when compared to this week last year.

“Some of our agencies have reported three times the number of clients they’re used to serving,” said Hill, who is the director of community engagement for the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank. “We are seeing increased demand.”

Pennsylvania sought and received approval from the Federal government to allow schools to distribute meals at no cost while closed due to COVID-19. Districts/schools that acted on this Federal approval applied and received approval from the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Select a county on the map to access information on schools and districts distributing meals at no cost to children under age 18.

This map is updated daily and is not exhaustive. Contact your school or district for more information and to confirm the availability of food.

When bad things happen, how do we act individually, and how can we come together as a society? How can we be kind in times of darkness?

Given the statewide mitigation efforts in Pennsylvania to prevent spread and exposure to COVID-19, the PA Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Food Assistance offers the following guidance regarding how to access emergency food assistance if you are experiencing food insecurity for any reason related to COVID-19.

Harrisburg, PA - The Department of Human Services (DHS) is closing all county assistance offices (CAOs) statewide to the public beginning Tuesday, March 17 in coordination with Governor Wolf’s mitigation guidance regarding COVID-19. In-person business will resume no sooner than Wednesday, April 1. Pennsylvanians are encouraged to use DHS’ online applications and resources to apply for benefits or submit paperwork as necessary.

“Public assistance programs can be vital during a public health crisis, and our resources are still available to ensure eligible Pennsylvanians are connected to the programs they need,” said DHS Secretary Teresa Miller. “Clients should take advantage of online resources like COMPASS and the myCOMPASS PA mobile app as Pennsylvania seeks to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 throughout the commonwealth.”

Social Security Administration Press Release - All local Social Security offices will be closed to the public for in-person service starting Tuesday, March 17, 2020. This decision protects the population we serve—older Americans and people with underlying medical conditions—and our employees during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. However, we are still able to provide critical services. Our secure and convenient online services remain available at Local offices will also continue to provide critical services over the phone. We are working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), state and local governments, and other experts to monitor COVID-19 and will let you know as soon as we can resume in-person service.

Altoona Mirror - Statistics compiled by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court show that in the nine years ending in 2018, Blair County had more protection-from-abuse cases filed per capita than the state overall or any of the surrounding counties, and that in the five years ending in 2018, Blair’s filings exceeded those of all but one of the state’s half-dozen fifth-class counties.

Morning Call - A run-of-the-mill family court case in Schuylkill County Court has attracted the attention of state and national civil rights activists after a father was found in contempt of court and jailed for not paying court-imposed fees.

Social Security phone scams are the number one type of fraud reported to the Federal Trade Commission. Callers claim that you have a problem with your Social Security number or benefits and demand immediate payment from you to avoid arrest or other legal action.

Harrisburg, PA - Matthew S. Rich, Esq., staff attorney and housing expert at MidPenn Legal Services is a recipient of 2020 Plan Excellence Award. The Excellence Awards recognizes legal aid attorneys, paralegals, support staff and friends of civil legal aid who advise and represent clients served by the civil legal programs that comprise the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network. The 2020 Excellence Award recipients will be honored at the Award Dinner on Tuesday, March 31, 2020, at the Hilton Harrisburg Hotel in Harrisburg, PA.

On one day every year, Centre County officials canvas the community to connect the area’s most vulnerable population with resources, creating what Director of Adult Services Faith Ryan calls “the census of homelessness.”

Centre Daily Times - Staff from the county’s Office of Adult Services and housing nonprofits counted 128 unsheltered or homeless individuals on the streets and in shelters. The data comes from the 2020 Point-in-Time count, a requirement from the federal office of Housing and Urban Development for all Continuum of Care programs nationwide with goals of ending homelessness. This year, the count occurred on Jan. 23, with volunteers asking where people slept the night before.

Centre Daily Times - For many of us January marks a time of reflection, a time when we turn the excesses of the holiday season to more sober things, including the necessity of filing a federal income tax return. That's right, income tax filing season is upon us.

CBS News - More than 1.5 million U.S. public school students experienced homelessness during the 2017-2018 school year, according to a National Center for Homeless Education report released in January. The number is the highest recorded in over ten years and represents a population larger than the estimated total population of Dallas.

The number of students experiencing homelessness spiked by 15% between 2015 and 2018, the three most recent school years covered in the report. In the 2015-2016 school year, 1,307,656 students were reported as homeless, compared to the 1,508,265 students in 2017-2018 year, according to the report.

IR-2020-22, January 28, 2020 - WASHINGTON − The Internal Revenue Service and its partners nationwide remind taxpayers about the Earned Income Tax Credit on January 31, "EITC Awareness Day." This is the 14th year of the EITC awareness campaign that alerts millions of workers to this significant tax credit.

"The EITC is a vital tax credit that helps millions of hard-working working families around the nation," said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. "It's critical that people review the credit to see if they qualify. Increasing awareness about the EITC is important, and the IRS is proud to support the ongoing efforts by partner groups across the country for sharing this critical information with taxpayers."

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