Thursday, October 14, 2010
Workshop focuses on legal services
By SUE WATSON
If a person has lost his job and is in danger of bankruptcy, or if he needs other types of legal help for problems of a non-criminal nature, North Mississippi Rural Legal Services may be able to provide an attorney at no charge, according to Ben Cole, director of the 39-county area.
Cole and a number of his colleagues were in Holly Springs several weeks ago to provide an overview of services available at NMRLS. He said high unemployment rates in Marshall County (14.7 percent) and Benton County (15.3 percent) are a concern.
“People in this category will be having problems with foreclosure on houses due to loss of jobs,” he said.
Some tips for those who are drawing unemployment - unemployment benefits are taxable, he said.
“People need to be aware of this,” he said. “We also represent people in civil matters.”
Rural Legal Services has offices in Oxford, West Point, Tupelo, Clarksdale and Greenville. Most funding for Rural Legal Services comes from federal sources.
In welcoming guests, Holly Springs Mayor Andre’ DeBerry said, “Information is powerful, but not unless it is in the hands of the person who needs it.”
In general, a person qualifies for legal services if their income does not exceed 125 percent of the federal poverty lines, Cole said. The federal poverty line for a single individual is between $11,000 and $13,000 per year and between $25,000 and $26,000 a year for a family of four. That translates to an individual making no more than about $1,625 a year and a family of four making no more than $32,500 a year.
Anyone who needs representation and wants to know if they qualify for free legal help may call the intake hotline number, 1-800-498-1804 Monday through Thursday between the hours of 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. The toll-free number in Oxford is 1-800-559-5074.
NMRLS handles the following types of cases – bankruptcy/collection and repossession/garnishments/warranty loans/unfair sales practice/consumer finance/education loans/wage claims/unemployment compensation/adoption/custody/visitation/divorce/annulment/guardianship/conservatorship/name change/parental rights termination/Medicaid/Medicare/homeowership/real property/landlord/tenant/public housing/AFDC/other Welfare/food stamps/commodities/Social Security/ SSI/ Veterans benefits/mental health/physically disabled rights/license (auto and other)/last wills and testament/ and power of attorney.
No criminal cases are handled at NMRLS.
More people now are eligible for help because of layoffs and unemployment, Cole said.
Some additional tips:
• people over 60 qualify for representation regardless of income.
• the agency also gets funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to work with housing discrimination.
• law students volunteer their services.
• a low-income taxpayer clinic helps people who have a controversy with the Internal Revenue Service.
• attorneys provide free representation.
The workshop in Holly Springs was to help individuals decide when they need an attorney, Cole said.
Some tips for those who are facing foreclosure proceedings were presented by Minnie Howard.
Most foreclosure proceedings are initiated six months after the house payment is 30 days late, she said. She advised people who have missed a house payment to talk to the service provider when they call.
“Answer the phone, call them,” she said. “They will never be able to help you if you’re ducking and dodging.”
Some tips for those under an audit with the IRS were provided by Peyton Chambers, who helps handle cases for the entire state.
His job is to handle IRS audits, appeals, collections all the way through at no charge to eligible clients.
People need to realize that the IRS sees a credit card write-off as taxable income. A person gets a 1099C form from the creditor if they have cancelled $600 or more in debt.
“The number who will receive a 1099C form from the IRS is expected to skyrocket in 2010,” Chambers said. “Mortgages, loans and credit card debts and some student loans that are cancelled or forgiven are types of forgiven debt the IRS treats as income.
“If you do not get a 1099C, you don’t have to worry,” Chambers said.
Severance pay and unemployment compensation is taxable, he said. “Don’t sit on things. Answer mail or phone calls from lenders, the IRS, etc.”
Ruby White reviewed bankruptcy filing, providing details:
• bankruptcy protection provides a fresh slate but conditions apply.
• a person goes through financial counseling then files a complete schedule of assets and debts. A person can be prosecuted for lying about income, assets and debts.
• Chapter 7 prevents garnishment of wages.
• a person behind on a mortgage should consider filing Chapter 13.
• a bankruptcy stays on a person’s credit report for 10 years.
Roy DeBerry with the Hill Country Project in Benton County, discussed jobs with Toyota and its tier suppliers in New Albany, Senatobia and Fulton. Individuals may apply through the Mississippi WIN Centers or online at www.mds.ms.gov.
Assembly line jobs will start out at $15 an hour and salaried positions will start out higher at Toyota, he said. People working for Nissan in Jackson are making $25 an hour, he said.
A background check and a drug test will be required of anyone who will be interviewed for a job with Toyota, he said. DeBerry does not represent Toyota.
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