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If you’re still not sure what you’re doing over spring break, check out these ideas for how you can have fun and give back.

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."

The Legal Intelligencer - Attorney Patrick M. Cicero joined the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network as its new executive director as part of the organization’s planned leadership transition.

Cicero will succeed the current executive director, Sam Milkes, who held the position since 2001 and is set to step down March 31.

Prior to joining PLAN as the organization’s seventh executive director, Cicero served as the executive director of the Pennsylvania Utility Law Project, a statewide legal aid program that is part of the PLAN network of civil legal aid programs.

Before that, he has clerked for U.S. District Judge Sylvia Rambo of Middle District of Pennsylvania, and he was a staff attorney with MidPenn Legal Services, the 18-county civil legal aid organizations serving residents of the central Pennsylvania.

Refinery29 - Domestic violence is an issue that is too often swept under the rug. When it is brought to light, the conversation often centers around physical violence, even though domestic abuse can manifest in many different forms.

"If you were to ask most people to visualize what a [domestic abuse] survivor looks like, they'll start talking about broken bones, black eyes, cuts, and bruises," says Kelly Coyne, vice president of domestic shelters for Safe Horizon. "And while that's definitely a reality of domestic violence, I'd say, more often than not, abusive relationships really start with power and control issues." And sadly, this type of abuse can be hard to spot, and even harder to get people to pay attention to.

Nearly all of your financial and medical records are connected to your Social Security number, which is why data thieves are constantly trying to nab it for use in fraud schemes or for selling it illicitly.

Robocall scammers use spoofing to deliberately falsify the caller ID that appears on your phone, disguising their identities in attempts to steal your Social Security number and other valuable personal information.

Often the scammers spoof a Social Security Administration phone number so you'll think it's the agency calling. The SSA recently posted a warning about this scam on its blog.

Kiplinger - Many scams are universal, from the IRS imposter who calls and threatens to arrest you if you don’t pay your taxes, to phishing emails that trick you into sending sensitive data or downloading malware onto your computer. But some types of fraud target older adults specifically or affect them disproportionately. Older adults may fall for certain scams because they are in the habit of answering calls from unknown callers, open junk mail rather than tossing it in the trash, or are not as practiced with the privacy settings on social media as younger generations.

LA Times - It’s the most wonderful time of the year. But for consumers, it’s also the most dangerous. From gift card rackets to online fraud, consumers are under near-constant assault amid what some analysts are calling the country’s first trillion-dollar holiday season. The Department of Homeland Security has urged shoppers “to be aware of potential holiday scams and malicious cyber-campaigns, particularly when browsing or shopping online.”

PEW - About 1 in 3 U.S. households faced housing, family, or debt issues that could result in an interaction with the civil legal system in 2018, according to a survey commissioned by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

The pervasive nature of such civil legal issues suggests that Americans would benefit from having more options for handling these cases and a broader range of assistance programs that extend beyond what private or legal aid attorneys can effectively provide.

With a little out-of-the-box thinking, you can give back in ways that meet the unique needs of your community and are fulfilling to everyone you encounter.

Dealing with debt collection issues can be challenging—especially when you’re not sure if the person you’re being contacted by is a legitimate debt collector or someone trying to scam you.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has released this new video which offers information on your rights relating to debt collectors and how to avoid scammers. - Veteran homelessness in Pennsylvania dropped by nearly 13% in 2019, according to the annual Homeless Assessment Report by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Those numbers mirror the national trend, which HUD officials say continues to decline.

Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program Kicks Off For 2019-2020 Season - Pennsylvania Department of Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller this week announced the start of the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) application process for the 2019-2020 season.

Harrisburg, PA - Jay Alberstadt, Esq., the President of the Board of Directors of Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network (“PLAN”) is pleased to announce the appointment of Patrick Cicero, Esq., as PLAN’s new Executive Director, effective January 15, 2020. Patrick will succeed the current Executive Director, Sam Milkes, who has held that positon since 2001. - Anyone who has watched “Law & Order” or any police drama knows that someone accused of a crime is guaranteed representation by a lawyer, regardless of the ability to pay. That’s not true in civil cases. In certain cases, such as child custody issues or landlord-tenant disputes, the guidance of a lawyer is sorely needed. Nonetheless, legal help is available to those who need assistance. And too many people don’t realize it, attorneys say.

Patriot News - As advocates who interact with low-income individuals and families on a daily basis, legal services attorneys are uniquely positioned to tell the story of how poor, working families struggle everyday against seemingly insurmountable odds.

The Sentinel - To celebrate its anniversary of providing “Advocacy, Justice and Hope in Central Pennsylvania,” MidPenn will host a cocktail reception and silent auction at the Hershey Lodge in Hershey from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday.

Pennsylvania Capital Star - In the Capitol rotunda Monday, it took nearly seven minutes for lawmakers, officials, and advocates to read the names of the 123 Pennsylvanians who were killed in domestic violence incidents last year.

The event, organized by the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, marked October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

West Reading, PA. – Reading Hospital and MidPenn Legal Services have joined forces to improve patients’ health in a way that reaches beyond the clinical setting into another important arena: legal services.

Be Well Berks, an initiative of the Community Wellness Department of Reading Hospital, has partnered with MidPenn Legal Services to create the Be Well Berks Medical Legal Partnership (MLP) program. Funded by the Be Well Berks Grant Program, the MLP provides free civil-legal advice and representation to low-income patients facing health-harming legal needs.

MSUToday - Women leaving abusive relationships suffer from more than the physical injuries and emotional shockwaves caused by their former partners. New research from Michigan State University uncovers the troubling financial situation women face due to “coerced debt” their partners place in their names, jeopardizing their chances of starting over and building a life of their own.

Daily Item - All across Pennsylvania, grandparents are stepping up to provide care for their grandchildren as a result of the devastating opioid crisis or other difficult circumstances. In fact, there are currently an estimated 89,000 households statewide where older Pennsylvanians are caring for approximately 100,000 grandchildren.

Reader's Digest - At this point, everyone has probably received a scam call (or a thousand). And by now, you’re probably savvy about more than a few of them. For example, someone impersonates your credit card company or the IRS in order to get your personal information, or an automated voice tries to get you to say “yes” so that word can be used as a voice signature for fraudulent activity. Unfortunately, scammers are only getting trickier and casting wider nets with newer scams.

Philadelphia Inquirer - The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, split along party lines, voted Thursday to dramatically expand low-income utility assistance programs, making them more forgiving and more affordable for hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians.

The PUC’s action could significantly lower energy costs for the poorest families — a household with a $10,000 annual income could see a $1,000 decrease in electric and gas bills.

Centre Daily Times - MidPenn Legal Services, a nonprofit, public interest law firm, was founded in 1969 to provide free civil legal aid to individuals and families who lack the financial resources to pay for such services.

Berks County, PA - Six programs to support treatment court initiatives and help crime victims will receive a total more than $800,000 from Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. $379,005 to MidPenn Legal Services, a nonprofit, public interest law firm, for its Legal Intervention for Victims and Empowerment (LIVE) Extended program.

Comedian Spike Milligan once joked that “And God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light, but the Electricity Board said He would have to wait until Thursday to be connected.” Electricity, gas and water play a major role in everyday life. People rely on these utilities and going without them can be a great hardship and can even be life threatening. During these past summer months, many people turned up their air conditioners and fans as the heat index rose to over 100 degrees, which may have caused a corresponding surge in an electric bill that the consumer may not have the ability to pay. In order to address this problem and avoid utility shut-offs, there are programs and protections available to utility customers.

Cumberland County, PA - Information about estate planning will be presented during a free seminar hosted by Rep. Sheryl Delozier (R-Cumberland) on Thursday, Sept. 19. Scheduled from 9-10:30 a.m., the second of four planned Older and Wiser Seminars will be held in Mechanicsburg Place (the Mechanicsburg Senior Center) at 97 W. Portland St., Mechanicsburg. The topic of the seminar is “Protection through Powers of Attorney and Living Wills.” Information will be presented by representatives of MidPenn Legal Services.

State College - Honoring the 232nd anniversary of the U.S. Constitution, the annual Constitution Day Centre Celebration will offer entertainment, education, activities and more in a new location this year. Attorneys from the Centre County Bar Association and MidPenn Legal Services will answer questions related to the Fourth through Seventh Amendment regarding individual rights under the criminal justice system.

Parade - “Financial abuse can come in many forms,” certified financial planner Derek Hagen of Money Health Solutions tells Parade. “Money can be used to control people, by offering money with strings attached. This creates a financial dependency on the one receiving the money. It can create resentment and anger toward the giver. The flip side to this is if someone uses guilt and shame to get money from money.”

Reading - “(A place) where a homeless mother of three living in her car does not have to worry about safety tonight,” Williams said. “They can go to a triage center and find a safe parking lot. We can connect them with some food. We allow them to be safe. They won't be hassled or robbed or shuttled along, and in the morning we connect them with services.”

PBSNews Hour - Back in the late 1970s, the term “elder abuse” had not even been coined. Even though it clearly existed, it was rarely recognized until it was too late. Today, public health agencies, including the World Health Organization, have declared elder abuse to be a growing problem around the world and have detailed a long list of harmful activities, including physical, sexual, emotional and psychological forms of abuse and neglect, as well as the theft or withholding of financial assets needed to survive.

Cumberland - Who keeps calling me about saving money on my electric bill? How do I know if renewable energy suppliers are really using renewable energy?

When you get a letter from the IRS, do not panic. Begin by reading the letter carefully and in its entirety. Many times, all you need to do is respond. Typically, the notice will be about a specific issue regarding your federal tax return. For example, it may explain that you owe a tax and will state the amount you owe.

The Sentinel - The United Way is more than the community’s fundraiser; it also is the driving force behind many programs such as the U-Turn and Taking It To The Streets, which we are appreciative to be a part of. We are beyond thankful for their continued support of our services, as well as working together to assist those most in need in our community. - Domestic violence does not discriminate. It victimizes both young and old, rich and poor, and people of all races, religions and sexual orientations. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, approximately 20 people per minute are physically abused by a partner in the United States — an astounding 10 million women and men annually.

Observer-Reporter - The number of women living below the poverty line in Washington County from 2013 to 2017 was almost double the number of men. That isn’t just a trend seen just in Washington, but also Greene, Allegheny, Fayette, Beaver and Westmoreland counties, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It’s also seen across Pennsylvania.

Be Well Berks MLP Monologue - “On average, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States — more than 12 million women and men over the course of a year”[1]. See something, say something. Speak up and speak out. Please know that you are not alone. Please seek support and assistance.

NBCNews - Con artists tell lies — it’s how they make a living. Calling people and pretending to be with a government agency — IRS, Social Security, ICE, DEA, or the local sheriff’s department — is a ruse that’s been lucrative for years. But these imposter scams have now hit an all-time high. Here are a few of the lies these government imposters are telling. In each case, the goal is to steal your money and/or personal information:

Johnston, PA - For low-income seniors, assistance is available to make sure they receive healthy and nutritious meals. On Monday, representatives from Hunger-Free Pennsylvania, the largest provider of meals to older Pennsylvanians, were at St. Vincent de Paul Food For Families to review its Commodity Supplemental Food Program and ensure its compliance. The program is the centerpiece of Hunger-Free Pennsylvania's efforts to improve the health of low-income seniors by supplementing their diets with food packages.

MLP Monologue - Foreclosure

Be Well Berks MLP Monologue- “Well, actually, if you can stay in your home that is a better deal for the neighborhood. It's certainly a better deal for the person that is in their home, rather than to be on the street and for that house to go into foreclosure and become a problem for the whole community”. These words from former United States Representative John Garamendi (California) help to highlight the issues that surround foreclosure and urge the importance of learning about the foreclosure process.

WGNS News Radio - While the criminal justice side of the opioid epidemic has received significant attention, the civil legal issues it has caused have quietly smoldered into a raging inferno, overwhelming legal aid providers, families, social service providers, and courts. The Legal Services Corporation, which funds legal aid organizations across America, recently rolled out a new report on this issue at the Tennessee Supreme Court in Nashville.

Colorado Springs, CO - Scammers like to strike when you’re at your most vulnerable. Last week, Nancy contacted me after receiving a strange call just days after losing her husband. The caller claimed to work for the VA. “She told me she was sorry that my husband had died recently. But she was telling me that we had lost out on getting an annuity with life insurance because in 2016 we hadn’t followed up on a letter that had been sent; that if we gave an annuity, we would collect $20,000,” Nancy said.

Philadelphia, PA - It was late on Oct. 11, 2006, when Khalia Robinson, then six months pregnant, got a craving for Chinese food. The corner takeout was packed, full of hungry patrons, people hanging out, a guy selling bootleg CDs. As Robinson squeezed in, her giant belly knocked a pile of CDs from a windowsill. As she was stacking them up again, she looked up to see a police officer standing over her, telling her she was under arrest. Almost a year later, Robinson finally beat the counterfeiting charges. But the criminal record it left behind was a stain that wouldn’t wash out, showing up whenever she tried to land a new job.

Allentown, PA - Aimed at reducing the stigma that people with criminal records face while looking for jobs, education and housing, Pennsylvania’s Clean Slate law expands criminal record sealing to more types of offenses. Starting Friday, an automated computer process will begin wiping cases from public databases. These include charges that were dropped or where individuals were found not guilty, as well as summary convictions and other nonviolent crimes that occurred more than 10 years ago.

Harrisburg, PA - The Federal Trade Commission has finalized the rule implementing a 2018 law that requires the nationwide consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) to provide free electronic credit monitoring services for active duty military consumers.

The Free Electronic Credit Monitoring for Active Duty Military Rule, which will be published in the Federal Register shortly, implements legislation included in the 2018 Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, which amended the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) by requiring CRAs to notify active duty military consumers about any “material” additions or modifications to their credit files.

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — Ten percent of 60,979 households in Franklin County, Pa., live in poverty, according to a new report released Tuesday by United Way of Pennsylvania.

For some families in Franklin County, financial conditions have improved since 2010, the end of the Great Recession. Yet with rising costs in housing, child care, food and health care, many still find themselves struggling.

YORK, Pa. — Juanita Baxter was 17 years old, pregnant and homeless. "I didn't know how to take care of a child, so I ended up dropping out of school," she said. She eventually got her G.E.D., but she struggled financially for years. "As soon as you get a regular job, your rent goes up, you don't get food stamps," Baxter said. According to the United Way's Alice Report, 1.2 million households in the state earn more than the federal poverty level, but still not enough to pay for basics like housing, food, transportation and child care.

“Civil legal aid in my view works best as a value-add to everything else, whether it’s mental health, health care, substance abuse treatment and recovery,” he said. “Legal aid is a necessary component, because barriers arise to whatever the end goal is, sobriety or living with recovery.”

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