Consumer Bankruptcy Journal Winter 2016 - Page 51

HELP LOWER INCOME SENIORS for “Help Eliminate Legal Problems for Seniors and Disabled.” HELPS is now a 501 c nonprofit law firm that represents seniors and disabled persons on protected income for the purpose of having an attorney to prevent collector contact under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. HELPS does not represent persons in any court.   HELPS sends “cease and desist” letters to collectors telling them to stop all contact with the debtor, and instead communicate with HELPS.   HELPS represents seniors and disabled persons receiving protected income in all 50 states. We receive this communication on an ongoing basis, now, and years into the future.  No qualified person is ever turned away.   Approximately a quarter of the clients we help receive our service for free.  Others pay an average of $10 or $20 per month for a specified period.   They easily enroll over the phone and can get almost immediate relief from harassing collectors.   We educate seniors how they can maintain their financial independence, Including assisting them in obtaining uncollectable status with the IRS and $0 student loan payment under an income contingent repayment plan. We help with form letters for prospective landlords explaining that the senior’s income is protected and available for rent. They can always call us with questions or concerns. There are far more seniors who need our help than we at HELPS could ever hope to assist. Thankfully there are many bankruptcy attorneys that already render pro bono services to the poor, lower income seniors and disabled persons. HELPS encourages bankruptcy attorneys to continue to help lower income seniors they meet in their practices. Persons receiving protected income, who simply need protection from collectors and maybe an attorney they could occasionally call. Whether the attorney wants to render this service pro bono or for a nominal fee is of course up to them. HELPS is happy to provide any attorney with templates and forms including cease and desist letters, printed information on how attorneys can help lower income seniors obtain uncollectable status with the IRS, student loans income contingent repayments with minimal or $0 monthly payments, overlooked VA benefits, Section 8 housing, basics of reverse mortgages, and many other practical topics of concern to lower income seniors. We are always happy to consult with attorneys who have questions. There are other areas where NACBA attorneys can render valuable service to lower income seniors and disabled persons. Several years ago I attended a NACBA conference in Washington D.C. Before the convention I and many other participants participated in legislative work. We received training, then met with our respective state senators and representatives regarding national legislation. This experience and training from NACBA taught me that I could do something- it sort of broke the ice. Running HELPS full time gave me time to do some things I had wanted to do for years. The Oregon Department of Revenue, in my home state, had for years been actively collecting taxes from seniors whose only income was social security and meager pensions. They never advised these seniors that their income was protected and legally could not be garnished. Instead the state actively made demands and then filed garnishments on seniors’ bank accounts, which contained nothing but exempt social security or pensions. There was no attempt to inform these persons about their income being protected. Bankruptcy attorneys in our state were frustrated with the problem. I turned to Kent Anderson, a law school classmate and Oregon NACBA chair for help. With Kent’s mentoring, HELPS became the guiding force in passing new legislation. Oregon House Bill National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys Winter 2016 2089 mandated that the Department of Revenue offer to suspend collection of state income taxes for lower income seniors and disabled person receiving federally protected income. It took lots of work. I learned the importance of involving the press. When a front page article came out in the Oregonian, our state flagship paper, exposing the problem, the bill quickly passed unanimously in both the Oregon House and Senate. This success has motivated me to pursue further legislation in this upcoming session here in Oregon. Past due property taxes in Oregon currently accrue interest at 16% per annum, inordinately harming the poor and elderly. I am actively working with legislators now to present legislation this coming session to change that immoral sum to something more fair and reasonable. I regret not having becoming involved earlier in the legislative process. NACBA members in every state probably see laws that need changing or implementing where they live. Not everything in bankruptcy needs to be done on the national level. Many times this legislation simply makes common sense. I am certain there are opportunities for attorneys everywhere to make a real difference in their own state. It is not easy, but not as hard as it might seem. Bankruptcy attorneys and NACBA continue to do incredible work helping financially struggling Americans.  HELPS nonprofit law firm wants to assist NACBA members who want to protect the elderly and disabled from unwanted collector contact. 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