They may not seem as “essential” as truck drivers or grocery workers, but the attorneys with the non-profit Legal Aid of the Bluegrass saw a surge in business like they'd never seen before the pandemic hit.
Karen Ginn, director of legal advocacy for Legal Aid of the Bluegrass, said the number of clients shot up by 2,750% and said their caseload remains high. The agency has expanded its hours of operation and shifted staff to address the demand for help.
“The level of fear…the emotional level…is difficult to even characterize,” Ginn said. “Our clients at Legal Aid are trying to maintain basic human needs, their housing, their employment, their food sources, and they’re not worried about living off of savings. They don’t have savings.”
When Legal Aid of the Bluegrass found that so many clients could not even get answers regarding unemployment benefits, the agency filed legal action against the state of Kentucky, and the state agreed to assign personnel from its unemployment system to address the issues of the Legal Aid clients, Ginn said.
“We have a biweekly meeting, and the (people) we’re meeting with are at high levels of the unemployment administration, and they are very sympathetic, but they don’t know what else to do," Ginn said. "They don’t have people to train, the training takes a long time, they don’t have the infrastructure to set up offices out and they couldn’t for the longest time."
Legal Aid is having to approach the legal issues differently due to the pandemic overwhelming the system.
“We like to win, for one thing. We like to have the best outcomes for our clients, and as an attorney there’s an expectation that the system will work and we can get through that and achieve an outcome for the client, win or lose," Ginn said. "The difficult part about this is that we have been sort of stuck in this system where there’s not an outcome and people are just holding and holding without their basic human needs."
Legal Aid of the Bluegrass is getting results for a lot of clients, Ginn said. “Every day we’re receiving some kind of assistance or word back where we can get people through the system but just not at the levels that meet the need."
One reason for the surge in requests is that people of all incomes — including those above the income level Legal Aid typically helps — have been reaching out. Legal Aid of the Bluegrass is encouraging anyone with issues to call the agency, because their attorneys may be able to help in some way.
“We do operate typically on an income eligibility system, but we have lots of other resources that we can pull from and we try to help every person who calls in some way, either directing them with some kind of legal information about where else they might go to for legal advice or actual representation, so people should call us,“ Ginn said.
”We are also providing advice to people on the best ways to get through,” Ginn said. “I know there’s information that we’ve received about when the lines open and when the new appointments are all downloaded into the system, so we try to advise our clients the best way we know of when to call and when to get those appointments.”
Right now the State of Kentucky’s new appointments for unemployment benefit issues are uploaded at 9:00 a.m.
If you need help from Legal Aid of the Bluegrass, call 859-431-8200 and select “new client services” or the “intake line."