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Booklet Aids Needy in Gaining Services

March 25, 1993|JEFFREY S. KLEIN and LOUIS M. BROWN | Klein is an attorney and president of The Times Valley and Ventura County editions . Brown is professor of law emeritus at USC and chairman of the board for the National Center for Preventive Law

Our legal system provides a lot more than a place where disputes are decided.

The law, in the form of local, state and federal legislation and regulations, impacts all of us in our everyday lives. The law even has a lot to say about "How to Get Food & Money," which is the title of a helpful 43-page booklet published by the Los Angeles-based Interfaith Hunger Coalition.

The booklet is directed primarily at providing help to hungry and low-income persons, describing benefits and opportunities concerning many of life's needs--all of which are based on rules and regulations that come under the umbrella of the "law."

Our legal system, for example, sets up a procedure for giving coupons to eligible low-income persons who can exchange them for food. But food stamps do not materialize magically or automatically. You have to apply. And to do that, you have to know how to apply. And it would be helpful to know whether you are eligible. You can get information like this from government agencies. Or, if you'd prefer not to wait in long lines just to get the basic information, you can read this booklet.

Getting food stamps is the opening subject in the booklet that describes an array of governmental benefits, including foster care, income supplements, homeless assistance, meals for children at school, medical assistance, social security, housing and meals for seniors.

There is even instruction about the "earned-income tax credit" something you may have heard President Clinton talking about recently. You'll learn that if your income was less than $22,370 in 1992, you are eligible to receive up to $2,211 from the government. Of course, the phrase "some restrictions apply" is applicable here, and you'll have to read the IRS's fine print.

The booklet is full of other useful information. There is WIC, a program for Women, Infants and Children. There is SSI, Supplemental Security Income, a cash benefit program for persons 65 and over and for blind and disabled persons of any age. The rules, as you might imagine, are complicated and often written in detailed, hard to understand legalese, but the explanations in this booklet appear in readable English.

There is a section for non-citizens, concerning rights, obligations and procedures, as well as a section devoted to the names, addresses and phone numbers of a variety of nonprofit organizations that can help you solve problems and deal with government bureaucracies.

If you are not eligible for government assistance, you may be wondering why we are writing about this subject in a consumer legal column. It points out an often misunderstood aspect of the law. The law has benefits as well as obligations. Lawyers draft the legislation that regulates access to government assistance. Lawyers interpret it to make sure it is fairly applied.

Yes, lawyers get involved in disputes when someone abuses the system or is not properly served by it. But the point is that the law is not all about disputes. Much of it is about opportunities that can be exploited or not.

If a person entitled to food stamps does not apply for them, no lawsuit results. Middle-income people, as well, have rights and benefits that may not be available if they are not sought. Lawsuits don't provide this information, but lawyers and government agencies regulated by laws, can provide this kind of helpful information.

For a copy of the booklet, write to Interfaith Hunger Coalition, 2449 Hyperion Ave., Los Angeles 90027. Ask for either the English or Spanish version. Free copies are available for individual use. Organization may obtain copies for a small fee plus postage and handling. Phone (213) 913-7333; publications order line (213) 664-1692.

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