The Minnesota Legal Services Coalition has received $3.5 million in federal CARES Act money through the state of Minnesota and will use it to finance its new Reach Justice Minnesota initiative, the group announced on April 7.
According to a coalition press release, Reach Justice comprises a series of efforts that leverage technology and emergency staffing to “help protect Minnesotans’ basic civil and human rights in the face of an unprecedented emergency and disaster” associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dorie Streit, executive director for Legal Aid Service of Northeastern Minnesota in Duluth, said Reach Justice will help bridge the technological divide for the communities the coalition serves.
With high unemployment and other economic challenges connected to the pandemic, the coalition says, tens of thousands of lower-income Minnesotans are seeking basic information about their legal rights and requesting legal representation to resolve civil legal issues.
Reach Justice Minnesota’s plan to help them involves four initiatives.
- The Legal Kiosk Project, a statewide network of around 270 community-based computer kiosks, which will help people apply for civil legal aid or other legal resources and, in some cases, attend online meetings and remote court hearings.
- “Justice buses,” or mobile legal aid offices, which will travel to rural areas so clients can meet with lawyers in person or obtain legal information while staying close to home.
- Additional investments in LawHelpMN, an online portal that posts fact sheets, booklets, videos and other legal information. It includes translations in Spanish, Hmong and Somali and its site traffic has increased by 33% since the start of the pandemic.
- Increased legal representation to thousands of Minnesota households. Emergency staffing has expanded the coalition’s capacity to serve clients, the press release says.
“These investments now will endure beyond the current public health emergency,” the press release said, “and will bridge the long-standing digital divide experienced not only by rural communities, but by low-income people throughout Minnesota who lack resources to access technology.”
The Legal Services Coalition is an association of seven regional Minnesota legal aid programs.
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