Consumer Law Task Force

Verizon Reduces Free Directory Assistance Calls from 4 to 2 Calls

Maryland
Office of People’s Counsel

ALERT

Verizon Reduces Free Directory Assistance Calls from 4 to 2 Calls

Effective
October 16, 2013

Verizon Maryland has reduced the number of free directory assistance calls from 4 to 2 calls per month effective October 16, 2013 for landline (wired) telephone service. Each directory assistance call above 2 calls per month will cost $1.99 per call. This change may impact your clients, including Lifeline customers, if they rely on landline service and 411
Directory Assistance from Verizon.

The Company took this action after a new law went into effect on October 1, 2013 permitting Verizon to do this and preventing the Commission from denying the call reduction. The law was passed after OPC successfully opposed this change in two cases heard by the Public Service Commission.

OPC had opposed this change for a simple reason. Even in this age of smart phones and broadband access, adults who are older or with lower incomes will be disproportionately impacted by this bill, since they are more likely than other adults to rely on landline phones and have the need for directory assistance. They will now be subject to additional expenses if they make more than two calls per month.

These are some options for customers to obtain free Directory Assistance information:

  • Internet: www.verizon.com/white
  • Hard copy residential directory: Call 800-888-8448 to obtain a paper or CD-ROM version of the white pages.
  • Physical or visual disabilities: Verizon cannot charge for directory assistance when these disabilities prevent a customer
    from using a telephone directory. If a customer has such disabilities, she should contact Verizon to get this restriction in the customer’s record.

If the customer with disabilities does not get a satisfactory response from Verizon, she should contact the Public Service Commission to make a complaint at 800-735-0474 or 800-735-2258 (TTY/Voice).

OPC also recommends that cell phone users without data plans should check their cell phone plans for the cost of directory assistance calls charged by their cell phone providers.

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10 Things Assisted Living Homes Won't Tell You

Good things to know, be sure to ask questions about these topics when searching for a good facility.

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/10-things-assistedliving-homes-wont-tell-you-1344980948534

Preparing for Enrollment: New Resources to Help You Through the Process

From Maryland Health Connection:

Whether you’re enrolling online or in person, Maryland Health Connection is providing you with ways to prepare for the enrollment process. Please visit the new “Prepare for Enrollment” page on MarylandHealthConnection.gov where you can review health plans, including Qualified Health Plans and Managed Care Organizations, and review rate estimates. Keep these resources on hand when selecting the plan options best for you and your family. The consumer support center is available to answer questions about Maryland Health Connection at 1-855-642-8572 (1-855-642-8573 services for the deaf or hard of hearing).

The Consumer Information Update page has been updated. We will continue to provide information as it becomes available. We appreciate the tremendous interest in, and support of, MarylandHealthConnection.gov. We will address issues as they arise, and will continually improve the function of the website so that Marylanders can access quality, affordable health coverage.

5 Obamacare Scams And How To Avoid Them

Share this wherever you can, you know that when there is an opportunity like this, our clients may suffer.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/nextavenue/2013/10/01/5-obamacare-scams-and-how-to-avoid-them/

health care resources for uninsured Marylanders


Maryland Health Connection opened its doors this week, and our clients have a new opportunity to access quality, affordable health insurance.  I want to make sure all legal service providers and pro bono attorneys have the resources you need to help your clients access the health care they need.   

  

Referrals:

Maryland Health Connection has a network of consumer assistance organizations that they call Connectors to offer health insurance assistance in Maryland. They are located in communities around the state and are staffed by navigators and assisters who are certified to help Marylanders enroll in Medicaid or a qualified health plan. By going to a local Connector organization, clients can get one-on-one, in person help to find and select health coverage.  You can find the list of each Connector organization across the state, the map showing what counties they cover, and the hours and locations here.

 

Clients can also go directly to Maryland Health Connection through the website www.marylandhealthconnection.gov, and call the Consumer Support Center at 1-855-642-8572.  The Consumer Support Center can handle 200 languages and has services for the deaf and hard of hearing at 1-855-642-8573.

 

Fact Sheets for Clients

Maryland Health Connection includes a lot of fact sheets for clients.  These documents include:

·         Maryland Health Connection Overview (in English and Spanish)

·         Medicaid Fact Sheets (in English and Spanish)

·         Income Eligibility Chart (in English and Spanish)

·         Health Coverage Glossary (in English and Spanish)

 

There’s more – check out everything herePlease print out any of these that seem particularly helpful and put them out in your waiting room, distribute them during outreach sessions, and provide them to your clients.

Thanks - and let me know how it goes.  (Sorry for the duplicate postings - I want to make sure this information gets to everyone!)

Earn $80 by participaing in a study about voting accessibility

**Participants Needed for Accessibility and Usability Evaluations of Voting Systems**

Maryland will be moving to a new voting system by 2016. The State Board of Elections has contracted with the University of Baltimore (UB) to conduct a study of potential voting systems to ensure that the system chosen is fully accessible to voters with disabilties.

UB is looking for testers with a range of disabilities for the study, which will take place in Baltimore at UB. The study pays $80 per hour. Testers must be over 18 and eligible to vote.

Please encourage individuals to contact UB to be considered to be a tester. Potential testers can reach UB by email at ubusabilitylab@gmail.com or 410-837-1974.

A letter from MDLC and a flier announcing the study are attached.

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Feds will now help resolve debt collection complaints

For the full story go to http://www.today.com/money/feds-will-now-help-resolve-debt-collection-complaints-6C10584645

People being hounded by debt collectors have a new ally.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is now taking complaints about all types of consumer debt collection, including those for credit cards, mortgages, auto loans, medical bills and student loans.

The CFPB will forward your complaint to the collection agency involved, which then has 15 days to respond with what they have done or plan to do. Using this system, the CFPB expects all but the most complicated complaints to be closed in 60 days.

The Bureau also developed five action letters you can use when corresponding with debt collectors. These templates are designed to help you get more information about the collector’s claim, dispute the debt, or have the collector limit or stop contact with you.

Find the letters at: http://www.consumerfinance.gov/blog/debtcollection/.

Check out the CFPB website at http://www.consumerfinance.gov/.

World's Largest Debt Collection Operation Settles FTC Charges, Will Pay $3.2 Million Penalty

Exerpt: 

The world’s largest debt collection operation, Expert Global Solutions and its subsidiaries, has agreed to stop harassing consumers with allegedly illegal debt collection calls and to pay a $3.2 million civil penalty – the largest ever obtained by the Federal Trade Commission against a third-party debt collector.

In its complaint, the FTC charged that the companies violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the FTC Act by using tactics such as calling consumers multiple times per day, calling even after being asked to stop, calling early in the morning or late at night, calling consumers’ workplaces despite knowing that the employers prohibited such calls, and leaving phone messages that disclosed the debtor’s name, and the existence of the debt, to third parties.  According to the FTC’s complaint, the companies also continued collection efforts without verifying the debt, even after consumers said they did not owe it.

For full story: http://ftc.gov/opa/2013/07/nco.shtm

Foreclosing Banks Prohibited From Evicting Residents Without Court Process

Effective June 1, 2013, homeowners (and tenants) in Maryland have legal protection from eviction without court process by banks and other foreclosure purchasers.  The Maryland General Assembly passed legislation superseding the ruling of the Court of Appeals in Nickens v. Mount Vernon Realty Group, et al, 429 Md. 53 (2012).  Please see the attached memo summarizing the provisions of the Act in the context of residential foreclosures and tax sale foreclosures.

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Finding Lost Pension Plans: Webinar

Date: 
Tue, 06/18/2013 - 12:30pm

For those who wished you could come to our pension rights training in March, or who are yearning for more, here's your chance!  See information below about a new webinar on finding lost pensions! - help your clients get the money they are owed.

The webinar Finding Lost Pension Plans is hosted by the Pension Rights Center, a grantee of the U.S. Administration for Community Living/Administration on Aging.  Participants in this webinar will learn about the problem of lost pension plans and the resources available to find these plans.

 Speaker:  Emily Spreiser, Staff Attorney, Pension Rights Center

 Date: June 18, 2013

Time: 12:30 p.m. EDT

 Register.

 

Sponsor: 
Pension Rights Center

Tax-Related Identity Theft: An Epidemic Facing Older Taxpayers

From the Administration for Community Living:

Identity thieves claiming other people’s refunds rose more than 650% between 2008 and 2012, and older adults are among the most frequent targets.  Last week, the US Senate Special Committee on Aging held a hearing to discuss this scam’s impact on seniors and federal legislation has been filed to increase penalties to act as a deterrent.

Older adults are particularly at risk because one of the sources that thieves use to obtain social security numbers are records kept by nursing homes, hospitals, assisted living facilities, and companies servicing Medicaid programs. Information can be stolen by unscrupulous employees or found by prying eyes. Elderly individuals are also specifically targeted by tax thieves because many of them are not required to file a tax return.  As a result, they are often unaware that fraudulent returns have been filed under their name.  Similarly, the Internal Revenue Service usually doesn’t realize a fraudulent return has been filed unless a return from the legitimate taxpayer is filed, resulting in a duplicate filing.

These resources can help your clients avoid becoming a victim of tax-related identify theft.

NCLC’s tips for older consumers to avoid identity theft

IRS identity protection tips

Federal Trade Commission’s steps for repairing tax-related identify theft

Free case consultation for elder advocates is provided by the National Senior Citizens Law Center and NCLC through the National Legal Resource Center

Senior Identity Theft: A Problem in this Day and Age

Date: 
Tue, 05/07/2013 - 3:30am - 4:30pm

The FTC will bring together experts from government, private industry, and public interest groups to discuss the unique challenges facing victims of senior identity theft.  The forum will include panels on different types of senior identity theft – tax and government benefits, medical, and long-term care – and will also explore the best consumer education and outreach techniques for reaching seniors.

May 7, 2013

9:00 am – 4:30 pm

601 New Jersey Ave, NW, Washington DC 20001

This forum is FREE and open to the PUBLIC.  It will be also be available via webcast.

 For more information about the forum and the webcast, please visit the forum website:  http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/workshops/senior-identity-theft/

 Pre-registration is not required to attend the forum but is encouraged so that we may better plan this event. 

To pre-register, please send your name and affiliation to seniorIDtheft@ftc.gov

 

 

Sponsor: 
Federal Trade Commission

What Our Clients Really Need is Money! Helping Clients Make the Most of Their Pension

Date: 
Tue, 03/05/2013 - 10:00am - 2:00pm

Free Training on Pension Rights!  Learn from the experts at the National Pension Rights Center how to advise clients so they can get the most out of their pensions.  We all know that many legal problems stem from the fact that our clients simply don't have enough money to pay their bills.  By helping clients understand their pension rights, you could be helping them increase their income every month!  From helping clients understand pension statements to finding lost pensions, some basic advice can go a long way.  This training is appropriate for many types of advocates: including folks who handle intake, consumer law, elder law, family law, and more.  Legal Aid staff, other legal services advocates, and pro bono or volunteer attorneys are all welcome!

So, join us on Tuesday, March 5, 2013 10:00 am- 2:00 pm, for What Our Clients Really Need is Money! Helping Clients Make the Most of their Pension. The training will be held at the Charles Ecker Business Training Center located at 6751 Columbia Gateway Drive, Columbia, MD 21046. Lunch and materials will be provided.

To sign up for this free training opportunity, go to http://understandingpensions.eventbrite.com 

 Topics include: 

- overview of basic features of employer sponsored retirement savings plan

-basic rules and terminology

-issue spotting pension problems

As with all Legal Aid trainings, if you are a Maryland Legal Aid staff member please consult with your supervisor and obtain approval to attend prior to registering for the training. If you have any questions please contact Yoanna at ymoisides@mdlab.org  .

 

 

What:       What Our Clients Really Need is Money! Helping Clients Make the Most of Their Pension

When:      Tuesday, March 5, 2013 10:00 -2:00 p.m.

Where:     Charles Ecker Business Training Center located at 6751 Columbia Gateway Drive, Columbia, MD 21046

Location
Location Name: 
Charles Ecker Business Training Center
Address1: 
6751 Columbia Gateway Drive
City: 
Columbia
State: 
MD
Zip: 
21046
Contact
Name: 
Yoanna Moisides
Phone: 
ymoisides@mdlab.org
Sponsor: 
Maryland Legal Aid

Final Rule on Essential Health Benefits and New Report on Mental Health Parity

From the Department of Health and Human Services:

Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced a final rule that will make purchasing health coverage easier for consumers.  The policies outlined today will give consumers a consistent way to compare and enroll in health coverage in the individual and small group markets, while giving states and insurers more flexibility and freedom to implement the Affordable Care Act.

 Today’s rule outlines health insurance issuer standards for a core package of benefits, called essential health benefits, that health insurance issuers must cover both inside and outside the Health Insurance Marketplace. Through its standards for essential health benefits, the final rule released today also expands coverage of mental health and substance use disorder services, including behavioral health treatment, for millions of Americans.

 A new report by HHS, also released today, details how these provisions will expand mental health and substance use disorder benefits and federal parity protections for 62 million more Americans.

 In the past, nearly 20 percent of individuals purchasing insurance didn’t have access to mental health services, and nearly one third had no coverage for substance use disorder services.  The rule seeks to fix that gap in coverage by expanding coverage of these benefits in three distinct ways:

 1. By including mental health and substance use disorder benefits as Essential Health Benefits

2. By applying federal parity protections to mental health and substance use disorder benefits in the individual and small group markets

3. By providing more Americans with access to quality health care that includes coverage for mental health and substance use disorder services

 To give states the flexibility to define essential health benefits in a way that would best meet the needs of their residents, this rule also finalizes a benchmark-based approach. This approach allows states to select a benchmark plan from options offered in the market, which are equal in scope to a typical employer plan.  Twenty-six states selected a benchmark plan for their state, and the largest small business plan in each state will be the benchmark for the rest.

 The rule additionally outlines actuarial value levels in the individual and small group markets, which helps to distinguish health plans offering different levels of coverage.  Beginning in 2014, plans that cover essential health benefits must cover a certain percentage of costs, known as actuarial value or “metal levels.”  These levels are 60 percent for a bronze plan, 70 percent for a silver plan, 80 percent for a gold plan, and 90 percent for a platinum plan. Metal levels will allow consumers to compare insurance plans with similar levels of coverage and cost-sharing based on premiums, provider networks, and other factors.  In addition, the health care law limits the annual amount of cost sharing that individuals will pay across all health plans – preventing insured Americans from facing catastrophic costs associated with an illness or injury.

 Policies in today’s rule also provide more information on accreditation standards for qualified health plans (QHPs) that will be offered through the Health Insurance Marketplaces (also known as Exchanges), one-stop shops that will provide access to quality, affordable private health insurance choices.

Together, these provisions will help consumers compare and select health plans in the individual and small group markets based on what is important to them and their families. People can make these choices knowing these health plans will cover a core set of critical benefits and can more easily compare the level of coverage based on a uniform standard.  Further, these provisions help expand choices and competition on the Marketplaces.

For more information on today’s rule, visit: http://cciio.cms.gov/resources/factsheets/ehb-2-20-2013.html.

 To view the rule, visit: http://www.ofr.gov/inspection.aspx.

 For more information on how today’s rule helps those in need of mental health and substance use disorder services, visit: http://aspe.hhs.gov/health/reports/2013/mental/rb_mental.cfm.

 Please direct questions to HHSIEA@hhs.gov.

 

PJC's Guide to Judgment Enforcement

PJC recently published a guide to collecting on judgments in Maryland. It is helpful not only after you have a judgment, but may also help you decide to litigate a case where you might have thought suing someone would result in a mere paper judgment. The guide focuses on judgments for unpaid wages and related damages, but is also useful for judgments in other cases.

The three fundamental components of this manual are: (1) pre- and post-judgment defendant investigation and asset research; (2) prejudgment tools to proactively prevent employers and other potential judgment debtors from hiding or selling off assets; and (3) judgment enforcement, including enforcement for unpaid wages.

Check it out here:

http://www.publicjustice.org/uploads/file/pdf/MD_Wage_Collection_Judgment_Enforcement_Guide_PJC_FINAL.pdf

Webinar: Understanding Property Tax Sales and What Advocates Can Do to Help Clients Avoid Tax Lien Foreclosures

Date: 
Wed, 02/13/2013 - 2:00pm - 3:30pm

Title:
 Understanding Property Tax Sales and What Advocates Can Do to Help Clients Avoid Tax Lien Foreclosures
 
Date:
 Wednesday, February 13, 2013
 
Time:
 2:00 PM - 3:30 PM EST

Join us for a Webinar on February 13
 
 
Space is limited.
Reserve your Webinar seat now at:
https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/691682328
 
 
All states permit local governments to sell property through a tax lien foreclosure process if the owner falls behind on property taxes or other municipal charges.  The complicated procedure and inadequate notice in most states leave many homeowners in the dark about steps they can take to avoid a home loss.  This webinar will help advocates understand the tax sale process and cover strategies to help homeowners avoid a tax lien foreclosure.

Presenter is John Rao, staff attorney, National Consumer Law Center

Additional sponsorship for this Webinar is provided by a grant from the Administration on Aging/Administration for Community Living .  This webinar is part of a series of National Elder Rights Training Project webinars for the National Legal Resource Center.

There is no charge for this webinar.
All time listings are in Eastern Standard Time.
If you have any questions email trainings@nclc.org
 

Sponsor: 
NCLC

Legal Nonprofit Seeks Executive Director

AWARD WINNING NON-PROFIT LAW FIRM SEEKS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Civil Justice Inc., a Maryland non-profit legal services program, is seeking a full time Executive Director.

Civil Justice provides legal services, including in impact cases, to people throughout Maryland and supports a network of small firm and solo attorneys to help meet the legal needs of historically underserved Marylanders.

About Civil Justice

Civil Justice was established in 1998 to increase the delivery of legal services to clients of low- and moderate-income while promoting a statewide network of community based lawyers who share a common commitment to access to justice.

Since it was founded, Civil Justice has become a recognized leader nationally and in Maryland by: (i) helping solo and small firm lawyers integrate public interest and private practices; (ii) successfully pursuing impact ligation on consumer and housing issues affecting Marylanders; (iii) providing policy advocacy at all levels of government; and (iv) providing other essential services to homeowners in foreclosure, debtors in bankruptcy, and other vulnerable consumers who have been victims of predatory practices.

About The Position & Qualifications

The Civil Justice Board of Directors seeks applications from candidates who have the commitment and capacity to lead the organization, including in new ways. It will give preference to candidates who have five years of related professional experience (including a background in consumer, foreclosure and/or housing law and solo or small firm practice), and three years or more of active litigation practice (federal and/or state courts), and who are licensed or eligible to practice law in Maryland within one year of the hire date.

Candidates should have the ability to:

• Provide support and vision to the organization’s network of solo and small firm attorneys;
• Direct/manage the organization’s active litigation practice, create and implement a litigation plan, and coordinate with staff and outside counsel;
• Oversee the organization’s various projects;
• Lead the organization’s Development Program (which heavily relies on grant proposals);
• Direct the administration and financial management of the organization;
• Lead and implement strategic planning initiatives; and
• Exercise creativity and vision in leading the organization and developing new legal services delivery mechanisms.

To Apply:

Interested candidates should apply by sending a confidential resume and cover letter detailing (i) the candidate’s interest in this opportunity and (ii) salary requirements and expectations for a position to: Civil Justice Inc., Attention: Executive Director Search, 520 W. Fayette Street, Suite 410, Baltimore, MD 21201, or via E-mail at cj@civiljusticenetwork.org.

 

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