Clinics HeLP Foster Interdisciplinary Growth

By: Lauren Newman, Spring 2019 HeLP Legal Services Clinic Intern

Under the supervision of clinic faculty, HeLP Clinic students have the opportunity to work on cases involving childhood disability, housing conditions, education, access to healthcare, or even the drafting of wills and advance directives. However, the law students are not on an island; in the clinic, they get to work across several disciplines and gain insight from physicians, medical students, and even administrative law judges. One such opportunity is during a biweekly meeting where law students can present their cases to the full group of practitioners and get advice on how to best move forward with their cases and help their clients. In addition to helping the clients, this experience additionally fosters growth for both the law students and medical students.

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Be Careful What You Ask For; You Just Might Get It

By: Whitney Woodward, Spring 2019 HeLP Legal Services Clinic Intern

The pinnacle moment in the HeLP Legal Services Clinic at Georgia State University College of Law is the opportunity to actually represent a client at a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). As one might imagine, the probability of a hearing being scheduled during the one or two semesters students participate in the Clinic is fairly low. Not all Clinic cases are ripe for hearing work since the Supplemental Security Income process through the Social Security Administration (SSA) often takes years to materialize into an appeal that warrants a hearing. Additionally, some Clinic clients never make it past the research and investigation phase with their HeLP legal interns due to a lack of evidence or effective legal arguments in their cases. Therefore, when, as a legal intern, one is given the opportunity to represent a client at an upcoming hearing, most students jump at the chance. While the experience is second to none, students must be ready for the work and responsibility that immediately lands in their laps and be willing to exhibit flexibility as they work with ALJs running their courtrooms in their own unique ways.

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Medical-Legal Partnerships: Working to Address Problems in Health Literacy

By: Katie Broyles, Spring 2019 HeLP Legal Services Clinic Intern

Most commonly, medical-legal partnerships (MLPs) are recognized for their vision to improve low-income patient and client situations by addressing the social determinants of health via both a medical and legal lens. However, most MLPs today are operating to solve a number of additional healthcare access and population problems for providers and patients behind the scenes. One of these problems is that of health literacy in low-income patients and clients. Health literacy is defined by the Department of Health and Human Services as the “degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.” A recent study found that “[m]ost American adults – 53 percent – have intermediate health literacy…they can perform ‘moderately challenging’ activities, like reading denser texts and handling unfamiliar arithmetic,” but about 20 percent have only “basic” health literacy that could cause problems, and 14 percent have scores “below basic” on the National Assessment of Adult Literacy. In addressing the social determinants of health at the outset of a physician-patient or attorney-client relationship, MLPs work to examine possible risk factors for low health literacy that may be causing initial problems in a patient or client’s case, such as low health plan compliance rates, lower percentages of advanced screening or usage of preventative care services, difficulty finding access to healthcare resources or services, or failure to use resources or services they are aware of altogether. In aiming to resolve these underlying issues, MLPs help to provide a long-term solution to the patient or client, in turn improving low-income population health and long-term health literacy.

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Hope for the Homeless

By: Laura Trejo, Spring 2019 HeLP Legal Services Clinic Intern

In December of last year, Sesame Street introduced its first homeless character, a Muppet named Lily. Lily and her parents are temporarily staying with her teacher while her parents struggle to find stable housing. Unfortunately, homelessness is a reality for millions of children across the country. More than 2.5 million children in the United States are currently experiencing homelessness. During the 2016-2017 school year, Georgia had an estimated youth and children homeless population of 38,474, with 732 students still unsheltered. Of students who had a nighttime residence, 3,499 were in shelters, 6,700 were in hotels or motels, and 27,543 were “doubled up,” a term that refers to a situation where individuals are unable to maintain their housing situation and are forced to stay with a series of friends or extended family members.

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Stuck Between a Financial Rock and a Hard Place

By: Whitney Woodward, Spring 2019 HeLP Legal Services Clinic Intern

The HeLP Legal Services Clinic at Georgia State University College of Law is an experience like no other. Law students, those individuals mired in classroom learning and drudging through the painful experience of law school finals, lucky enough to find the HeLP Clinic are given the opportunity to practice law via the Student Practice Rule under the direct supervision of a Georgia licensed attorney. Unlike the hundreds of pages of already decided cases to read or the countless hypotheticals posed to students in a traditional law school course, the HeLP Clinic provides students with cases for real people with real issues and real deadlines. The HeLP Clinic’s clients are low-income families with children being treated in the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta system, and who have some sort of legal problem(s). The issues handled in the HeLP Clinic are often heavy, but with such heaviness comes a law student’s burning desire to work incredibly hard for these families in need.

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From Reactive to Proactive: The Importance of Screening for the Social Determinants of Health in a Medical-Legal Partnership

By: Katie Broyles, Spring 2019 HeLP Legal Services Clinic Intern

The majority of medical and legal practices today are inherently reactive, rather than proactive. In the medical field, most insurers will not pay for a great number of preventative healthcare services. In addition, many individuals lack access to basic health education emphasizing the benefits of early detection and seeking out regular preventative care. As a result, such individuals are not incentivized to plan ahead and cultivate a healthcare strategy moving forward in their lives (i.e. attend regular preventative check-ups, receive regular flu shots and stay current with vaccines, decide who their healthcare power of attorney will be or draft an advance directive, or check in with these decisions annually). Consequently, the majority of individuals in the United States healthcare system seek out health care only in the event of an emergency, leaving the medical system with no choice but to reactively address problems as they arise, thus attending to patients that use the emergency department nearly twice as often as patients in comparable countries. Interestingly, the legal field can present the same challenges to individuals faced with a legal system that is also largely reactive, in which individuals most often seek legal assistance because they have already been injured in some way and seek a reactive legal remedy as a result.

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Another Tax Clinic Amicus Brief Success Story!

2019 is turning into a banner year for cases in which GSU’s own Philip C. Cook Low Income Taxpayer Clinic and the Harvard Federal Tax Clinic have partnered up to file amicus briefs.  On April 2, the United States Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the United States Tax Court in Borenstein v. Comm’r of Internal Revenue (No. 17-3900).

This was a case that the clinics had been involved with for some time, as they had filed amicus briefs when the case was in the United States Tax Court as well.  For a good discussion on the background of the case before it landed in the Second Circuit, see here and here.  In a nutshell, the case involved a very technical application of the statute of limitations applicable to receiving tax refunds and a question over whether taxpayers who request extensions to file their tax returns but who then end up not using the extension experience a 6 month “black hole” in the middle of their refund statute in which they lose their ability to obtain a refund, only to regain it after the six month window has passed.

The roots of this problem go back to Congress’ attempt to remedy unfairness in the refund statute and to legislatively correct a limitations consistency problem from the Supreme Court’s decision in Comm’r of Internal Revenue v. Lundy, 516 U.S. 235 (1996).  Normally, taxpayers have a three year lookback period to request refunds if they receive a notice of deficiency (i.e. a notice from the IRS stating that the IRS believes they owe additional tax).  However, under prior law, this lookback period was shortened to two years if the IRS sent a notice of deficiency before the taxpayer had filed a tax return.  Congress rightfully believed that a three year lookback period should apply regardless of whether the return was filed before the IRS issued a notice of deficiency and accordingly amended IRC § 6512(b)(3) to state that a three year lookback period would apply for refunds if the IRS mailed a notice of deficiency “during the third year after the due date (with extensions) for filing the return” and before the taxpayer had filed the return. Continue reading