Advocates defeat small-dollar loan bill
Mississippi Center for Justice, along with faith-based leaders and civic organizations, recently defeated House Bill 1396, which sought to increase the interest rates on small-dollar loans from 36 to 99 percent. Under current law, a $1,500, 24-month loan would cost $2,241. If House Bill 1396 passed, the same loan would have cost $3,389, resulting in a $66 per month increase in interest. Increasing the interest rate on small-dollar loans would disproportionately affect low-income households who borrow funds to survive.
When the Center received notice about this bill they quickly activated members of the Mississippians for Fair Lending coalition. Paheadra Robinson, director of consumer protection at the Center, has worked closely with this coalition to stop predatory loan practices from trapping more Mississippians in a cycle of debt. “Partnerships with faith-based partners and other advocates are of great importance to our economic justice work. With the help of groups like these, we were able to quickly mobilize advocates, community leaders and press to the steps of the Capitol to prove this bill did not represent the needs of hardworking Mississippi families still feeling the effects of the recession,” said Robinson.
Due to the partnerships forged from the Center’s previous predatory lending work, House Bill 1396 died in committee. The Center is grateful to all of our partners for their efforts to help create more consumer-friendly financial products in Mississippi.
Click here to watch a video of Mississippi Center for Justice
staff and partners in action at the Mississippi Capitol.
Photo: Paheadra Robinson speaks at the Capitol along with members of the Mississippians for Fair Lending Coalition.
Gulf Justice Consortium honored for regional response to BP oil disaster
On the two-year anniversary of the BP oil disaster, members of the Gulf Justice Consortium gathered in Washington D.C. to receive the John Minor Wisdom Public Service and Professionalism Award. This honor was presented by the American Bar Association’s Litigation Section for the Consortium’s five-state regional response to provide a fair and equitable claims process to those affected by the BP oil disaster.
The Consortium first convened days after the Deepwater Horizon explosion to assess victims' needs and plan a synchronized effort to help. “We recognized that people whose livelihoods depended on the Gulf waters would show up in legal services offices throughout the region and that there were no existing resources to provide the capacity to serve their need,” said John Jopling, managing attorney of Mississippi Center for Justice in Biloxi.
Among the achievements for which the Consortium was honored were their efforts to advise clients susceptible to predatory legal practices, monitor allocated resources and their success in obtaining funding for a continued presence of legal aid assistance for the Gulf region. Funding was secured by proving to Kenneth Feinberg, administrator of the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, that he and his staff would benefit from the collaborative efforts of the Consortium in facilitating and standardizing claims to be sent to the claims facility. To date, the consortium has helped nearly 6,700 claimants through the claims process. Betsy Cavendish, Executive Director of Alabama Appleseed, Consortium member, attended the awards luncheon and spoke to the necessity of the group’s work. “So often, relief efforts are focused on immediate human needs, which are not always inclusive of legal needs. We were glad to participate with the Consortium in trying to fix the many problems afflicting vulnerable communities throughout the Gulf Coast,” she said.
Martha Bergmark, president and CEO of Mississippi Center for Justice accepted the award on behalf of the Consortium and spoke to the ongoing needs of the Gulf region. “We identified recovery needs that went well beyond the claims process, including physical and mental health problems, foreclosures and evictions, bankruptcies and access to public benefits, and we continue to identify resources to enable us to address those issues as well,” said Bergmark.
Members of the Consortium are Alabama Appleseed, Legal Services Alabama, Legal Services of North Florida, North Florida Center for Equal Justice, Louisiana Civil Justice Center, Louisiana Justice Institute, Moving Forward Gulf Coast, Pro Bono Project, Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, Mississippi Center for Justice, Mississippi Center for Legal Services, Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project and Lone Star Legal Aid.
Click here for video of the John Minor Wisdom Awards luncheon and pre-reception. Click here to view personal stories about the impact of the disaster.
Photo: Gulf Justice Consortium members accept award.
Center launches educational opportunities campaign
Mississippi Center for Justice recently held two training sessions for pro bono attorneys who participate in its educational opportunities campaign. The campaign was created to increase access to education for the 53,000 students with disabilities in Mississippi and in continuation of the Center’s work to decrease the number of students displaced from school due to prolonged out of school suspensions. These attorneys can now advocate on behalf of students to ensure their educational quality doesn’t suffer as a result of disability or easily-addressed classroom etiquette. Statistics show that students disciplined through out-of-school expulsion are more likely to drop out or repeat the same grade, which can have detrimental effects to their grades, families and communities.
To prevent these negative effects, educational advocacy skills training was provided to attorneys so they can mediate between students and schools. The training provided discipline alternatives aimed at promoting good behavior and an open-dialogue between parents/guardians and schools all while keeping the student engaged within an educational environment. Kim Duffy, staff attorney with Mississippi Center for Justice, leads the education work and played a major role in shaping these alternatives to keep children in school. “Students with special needs make up 11 percent of Mississippi’s public school educated population. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) calls for all students with disabilities to have a fair shot at an education that will prepare them to be productive members of society. We are working to make that a reality,” said Duffy.
Former Mississippi Governor Ronnie Musgrove is a passionate supporter of children’s education and has helped the Center shape this training and recruit pro bono attorneys. "Disability impacts us all. One day, we will all be consumers of the system we are now creating," said Musgrove. The Center thanks Governor Musgrove and all participants for their support in this endeavor to increase access to education.
To learn more about how you can volunteer in the Center’s educational opportunity campaign, contact Kim Duffy.
Photos: Governor Ronnie Musgrove leads training session.
Duffy receives NAACP award
Kim Duffy, who leads the education initiatives as staff attorney for Mississippi Center for Justice, was recently honored by the Biloxi branch of the NAACP. Duffy is this year’s recipient of the Gwendolyn Demarks Award, which is bestowed upon the person who contributes the most to the education system on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast. The award was given as part of the NAACP’s 52nd annual Freedom-Fund Awards Banquet. The speaker for the event was Mrs. Loraine Miller, former clerk for the U.S. House of Representatives and national board member for the NAACP. This now annual event began in an effort to recognize persons who support their community and the values of the NAACP.
Duffy received this award due to her support of the Save Our Schools Coalition (SOS), a group formed to help reopen Nichols Elementary in Biloxi. Nichols is located in East Biloxi and serves a primarily low-income community, however, in 2010, it was the only school in Biloxi to receive a “Star Rating.” It was also one of four schools in Mississippi to receive a National Blue Ribbon Award from the U.S. Department of Education for high test scores in math and reading. This record of excellence prompted the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to offer $1.5 million to keep the school open. However, Biloxi’s school board declined without a public vote on the matter. Parents within the school district were distraught over the decision to close the area’s best-performing school and to merge the students with nearby Gorenflo Elementary, creating larger classes sizes and ultimately hurting student performance. The Center continues to work with the coalition to find a solution for the re-opening of Nichols school.
Photo: Kim Duffy
New community organizer in Biloxi
Allytra Perryman serves as community organizer in our Biloxi office. In this role, Allytra leads a multi-faceted campaign to secure the re-opening of Nichols Elementary School, which received the highest rating of any school in Biloxi in 2010. She also works to engage regional organizations and community stakeholders with the goal of ensuring access to quality education in Mississippi.
Allytra has a long history of working toward social and economic justice on the Gulf Coast. She previously worked to ensure diversity for corporate clients and coordinated volunteers for large outreach events aimed at amplifying the role of the citizen in community planning. Allytra is actively involved in a wide variety of social justice organizations, including Coastal Women for Change, Mississippi State Conference NAACP, Sister Song, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, Coalition of African American Women, Future Leaders Exceeding Expectations (FLEXX) and the Gulf Coast Regenesis Coalition. Allytra is married and has two daughters.