MARYLAND ATTORNEY GENERAL'S COVID 19 ACCESS TO JUSTICE TASK FORCE

The Task Force was created in 2020 as a partnership between the Maryland Attorney General’s Office and the Maryland Access to Justice Commission to address extraordinary civil legal challenges, hurdles and hardships impacting unprecedented numbers of Marylanders as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. The Task Force’s final report, released on January 11, 2021, provides detailed reforms and recommendations to ensure that Marylanders are housed, economically secure, healthy and have enough food to eat, are safe and have meaningful access to the civil justice system.

Full Report: https://www.marylandattorneygeneral.gov/Pages/A2JC/default.aspx

 

 

 

 

 

The Task Force benefited from a multidisciplinary membership of high-level and diverse leaders, drawing expertise in health, disaster recovery, business, government, housing, and many other fields to confront these new challenges. 

While preparing its final report, the Task Force surveyed impacted individuals, service providers, and attorneys. Additionally, the Task Force convened more than 300 experts, whose dynamic advice has been incorporated into the report and recommendations.

 

Additional Task Force Accomplishments:

●Secured $11.7 million in emergency funding for the Maryland Legal Services Corporation

●Hosted 12 community forums, in English and Spanish, to better inform Marylanders about

resources

●Provided resource guides and substantive law manuals to assist Marylanders

Goals and Focus Areas for the Attorney General’s COVID-19 Access to Justice Task Force:

●Ensuring Marylanders are Housed

●Ensuring Marylanders are Economically Secure

●EnsuringMarylanders are Healthy and Have Enough to Eat

●Ensuring Marylanders are Safe

●Ensuring Marylanders Have Access to the Civil Justice System

Ensuring Marylanders are Housed:

The problem: “Even before COVID-19, Maryland had an out-sized number of eviction filings and judgments. When the moratorium on evictions lifts, renters will face an avalanche of new actions. To prevent mass displacement, we must identify and connect families to rental assistance programs, provide

ways for parties to resolve problems outside the courts, and expand resources available to tenants within the courts.”

 

Task Force Recommendations:

• Increase the filing fee for summary ejectment actions and prohibit the fee from being passed on to tenants.

• Provide a right to counsel to defendants at both the trial and mediation/settlement phases of eviction proceedings.

• Institute due process reforms and data reporting requirements to allow more time and targeted intervention for diversion efforts and eviction and homelessness prevention.

 

Ensuring Marylanders are Economically Secure:

The problem: “COVID-19 has devastated our economy, causing record unemployment rates—nearly 15% nationwide and nearly 10% in Maryland—concentrated among low-wage workers. The State has reported receiving more than 600,000 claims for unemployment insurance since the pandemic began, though backlogs and delays suggest the number of people in need may be even higher. Beyond the resulting food and housing insecurity, many of these families will also face mounting medical and consumer debts and debt collection lawsuits.”

 

Task Force Recommendations:

• Eliminate body attachments for consumer debt.

• Decrease the collection fee charged by the State’s Central Collection Unit on civil debt from the current fee of “up to 20 percent” to 6 percent.

• Allow the heirs of an estate to receive the homeowner’s tax credit to reduce the amount of real property taxes that the estate/heirs would otherwise be required to pay.

 

Ensuring Marylanders are Healthy and Have Enough to Eat:

The problem: “The Maryland Food Bank saw an 82% increase in the amount of food delivered in April 2020 in comparison to 2019. From their estimates, almost 1 million Marylanders may find themselves food insecure because of COVID-19. Attorneys from legal services organizations report that many

Marylanders face barriers in receiving their benefits or are being wrongfully denied. To ensure that Marylanders are able to feed their families, we must identify the barriers to accessing unemployment public benefits and opportunities to expand access to these critical services.”

 

Task Force Recommendations:

• Establishing a tracking system to track the status of unemployment insurance claims through application, processing, and review.

• Increase and maintain Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits.

• Connect unemployed individuals who have lost health insurance coverage to health insurance options offered by the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange.

• Build health equity and increase health care services for populations disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and historically underserved by making permanent telehealth and audio services.

 

Ensuring Marylanders are Safe:

The problem: “More than 2,600 Marylanders have died from the COVID-19 virus and thousands more have tested positive and been hospitalized. Hardest hit have been essential workers—healthcare, food, transportation, and delivery workers who are disproportionately people of color and lack adequate personal protective equipment, testing, and other recommended safeguards. The stress and anxiety caused by job loss and forced social distancing has compounded these outcomes, causing many health care practitioners and victim advocates to predict an increase in domestic violence, child abuse and elder abuse and neglect.”

 

Task Force Recommendations:

• Require the Maryland Commissioner of Labor and Industry to develop and adopt regulations to provide protections to workers, including establishing standards for health care industry and emergency response employers, and requiring employers to provide paid leave to workers who must self-quarantine due to workplace exposure.

• Amend Maryland’s Healthy Working Families Act to: (1) remove the exemptions from required paid sick leave for underage workers, agricultural workers, and temporary or part time staffing workers; and (2) add eligibility to use paid sick leave during a declared public health emergency. 

• Require the State and counties to increase transparency regarding their receipt and expenditure of federal emergency funding.

 

Ensuring Marylanders Have Access to the Civil Justice System:

The problem: “Too many in our state do not have access to technology or the internet, yet our courts will be moving to conducting remote hearings and online dispute resolution. We have to work together to make sure that entire swaths of our populations are not left out of our justice system because they do not have access to technology or the internet. It is also critical that our work be done in collaboration with representatives of all impacted communities and disseminated in clear, succinct and accurate plain-language information on various platforms to ensure that it is accessible to self-represented litigants, community partners and the general public.”

 

Task Force Recommendations:

• Mandate a new appropriation from the State’s General Fund to support Maryland Legal Services Corporation (MLSC)-funded civil legal aid services as well as civil legal aid and legal support services provided by organizations not funded by MLSC.

• Increase pro bono legal services to meet the rising demand for civil legal aid.

• Have a single point of entry for information about civil legal aid.

• Incorporate civil legal needs into emergency planning and government agencies whose missions deal with basic human needs.

Final Report