Massachusetts legal aid programs have put together a handy Web site, www.masslegalhelp.org, that can help residents find answers to all sorts of common questions about their legal rights and entitled benefits. It features information on everything from consumer issues to housing to public benefits as well as disability and senior issues.
For example, there is a section on food stamp benefits that dispels some common myths. Did you know that if someone is age 59 or over and disabled, they may be able to receive a higher food stamp benefit by reporting the cost of their medical expenses?
Did you also know that in Massachusetts, investor-owned electric and gas companies are regulated by the state? By law, they must offer discounts to certain low-income people. People whose household income does not exceed 200 percent of the federal poverty level or who receive fuel assistance, food stamps, MassHealth and certain other programs may be eligible for the utility company discounts. For information on the low-income guidelines of National Grid, one of the regulated providers, visit www.nationalgridus.com/masselectric/home/rates/4_lowincome.asp.
People can link to information on their rights in domestic violence situations via the Web site at www.abanet.org/publiced/domviol.pdf. It lists places to call for assistance. Senior citizens who are victims of domestic violence can also get help from Adult Protective Services by calling SeniorCare, Inc. at 978-281-1750 during normal business hours, or by dialing the Elder Abuse Hotline at 800-922- 2275.
The consumer assistance section of Mass Legal Help contains advice on how to inspect a used car before buying it and whether to lease or buy a vehicle. There is a section on the CORI laws (criminal record background checks) that may affect someone's ability to qualify for work, and even a section that explains how someone may request that their spouse be required to cover an attorney's retainer fee in a divorce case.
The Mass Legal Help site is a great resource for anyone who might need help in a number of areas. While the advice is useful, it is not a substitute for the role of a qualified attorney. Local legal aid services for low-income individuals who may be facing serious legal issues can be found at www.neighborhoodlaw.org/perl/services.cgi .
Anne Springer is the public relations director for SeniorCare, Inc., which provides and coordinates services to elders, enabling them to live independently at home and remain part of their community. It serves elders in Beverly, Essex, Gloucester, Hamilton, Ipswich, Manchester, Rockport, Topsfield and Wenham, and is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation.