Community Legal Services of Philadelphia (CLS)
In 1966, The Philadelphia Bar Association established Community Legal Services (CLS) as an independent 501(c)(3) organization to provide free legal services, in civil matters, to low-income Philadelphians. Since its founding, CLS has served more than one million clients who could not afford to pay for legal representation and who would have faced a variety of devastating ends without dedicated, knowledgeable attorneys on their side.
CLS has eight legal units specializing in particular areas of civil poverty law:
- Aging and Disabilities Unit specializes in representing seniors and people with disabilities in a wide range of public benefits and consumer matters, including challenges to denials of Medicaid, Medicare, or disability benefits, decisions by managed care organizations to deny care, and violations of residents’ rights and quality-of-care requirements in nursing homes and personal care homes.
- Employment Unit represents clients with employment-related problems, including tackling barriers to employment, seeking unpaid wages, and preserving jobs. The unit advocates at the national and state levels on low-income workers’ rights issues such as preventing overbroad disqualifications of workers with criminal records.
- Energy Unit works to keep the utilities on for families by protecting the rights of low-income utility customers on service and payment issues, representing group clients on utility rate change cases and serving as the Public Advocate in representing all Philadelphia Gas Works residential customers.
- Family Advocacy Unit (FAU) represents individual parents, involved with the Department of Human Services (DHS), who are seeking to keep their children at home or to have them returned from foster care to a safe home. The FAU provides assistance and trainings to community groups, organizations and lawyers. The FAU also advocates on the national, state and local level for improvements in child welfare practices, services to families, and the dependency court system.
- Homeownership and Consumer Rights Unit represents homeowners in disputes, residential mortgage foreclosures, fraudulent consumer practices, and issues with banking or check-cashing agencies. The unit uses advocacy and litigation to address the predatory lending crisis, abusive mortgage practices, and other banking issues affecting low-income families.
- Housing Unit represents private, public, and subsidized housing tenants in matters involving eviction, illegal lockouts, and substandard housing. The unit also uses systems advocacy and litigation to address issues ranging from lead paint elimination, to federal housing policy changes, to tenant eviction laws.
- Language Access Project works to ensure CLS services are available to Philadelphia communities with limited ability to speak, read, write, or understand English. The unit addresses legal issues specific to this population and collaborates with other units to represent individuals and families in challenging language barriers to benefits, services, and access to justice.
- Public Benefits Unit represents clients seeking or facing termination of public benefits such as cash assistance, SSI disability, food stamps, or health insurance. The unit provides education and outreach services and advocates for improvements to the programs that provide these benefits at the federal, state and local levels.