An Epidemic within a Pandemic
By Tammie Johnson, 4-15-2021
The COVID-19 pandemic changed the world as we know it. The ability to go to work and socialize with co-workers, friends, and family was something we took for granted. When the restrictions first came into effect, some people enjoyed being able to work from home and spend more time with family. Victims of domestic abuse are finding themselves trapped with their abuser 24 hours a day.
COVID-19 didn’t create an abuser, but it did exacerbate tendencies for domestic violence abuse. Social isolation gives abusers more control. Abusers use isolation as a tool to control their victim and they are using COVID-19 as an excuse to make victims stay. Victims are now spending more time with their abuser and the time they normally would have away from their abusers has now been restricted. This has resulted in an increase in domestic violence calls. For example, Jefferson County AL experienced a 27% increase in domestic violence calls during March 2020 compared to March 2019. (Boserup et al (2020). This increase could also be a result of high stress levels. Quarantine has resulted in job loss which has caused stress levels within domestic relationships to rise. The abuser will often use financial loss and lack of social support as an excuse for their behavior.
Some victims are finding it more difficult to reach out for help during the pandemic. Social distancing has forced shelters to reduce capacity limits. Some victims may refrain from going to a shelter due to the fear of exposing themselves and their children to the virus. They are also less likely to report domestic violence to the authorities due to the quarantine restrictions. Victims are more likely to call law enforcement after the abuser has left but since the pandemic the victim is often stuck with the abuser.
Awareness of domestic violence is crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic. Several things can be done to help victims of domestic violence:
- Make neighbors, family members, and other bystanders aware of the signs of domestic violence, which will help raise the rate of which these incidents are reported to law enforcement.
- Provide more housing programs to assist domestic violence victims and their children escape their abuser. Increase knowledge of resources to access medical needs due to domestic violence such as healthcare and counseling.
- Promote awareness of programs available to assist a victim with legal remedies such as divorce, child support and visitation rights.
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, please know that you are not alone. Domestic violence occurs to 1 in 3 women. If you need help, please reach out to someone, or contact one of the following resources:
- National Domestic Violence Hotline – 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
- If you can’t call you can text LOVEIS to 22522 – they are available 24/7 and they can provide resources in your area.
- Contact your local Legal Services office. Most offer legal assistance with orders of protection, divorce, child custody, and visitation issues for domestic violence victims
- West Tennessee Legal Services – 1-800-372-8346 Ext. 250 – they serve Benton, Carroll, Chester, Crockett, Dyer, Decatur, Gibson, Hardeman, Hardin, Haywood, Henry, Henderson, Lake, McNairy, Madison, Obion, and Weakley counties.
- WRAP (Wo/Men's Resource and Rape Assistance Program) – 1-800-273-8712 – they serve Benton, Carroll, Chester, Crockett, Dyer, Decatur, Gibson, Hardeman, Hardin, Haywood, Henry, Henderson, Lake, Lauderdale, McNairy, Madison, Obion, Tipton and Weakley counties
- Safe Hope Center – 731-425-8185 – serves Madison County
- 1 Safe Place – 731-432-4251 – is opening on July 1, 2021 and will serve Brownsville/Haywood County
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2020a). Intimate partner violence. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/intimatepartnerviolence/index.html
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV). (2020). Statistics. Retrieved from https://ncadv.org/
National Domestic Violence Hotline (2020). A Snapshot of Domestic Violence During Covid-19. Retrieved from https://www.thehotline.org/resources/a-snapshot-of-domestic-violence-during-covid-19/
Sharma, A. & Borah, S.B. (2020). Covid-19 and Domestic Violence: An Indirect Path to Social and Economic Crisis. Journal of Family Violence. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10896-020-00188-8 https://doi.org/10.1007/s10896-020-00188-8
Domestic Violence Surges with Covid-19, Myrna Buiser Schnur, MSN, RN. https://www.nujrsingcenter.com/ncblog/october-2020/domestic-violence-surges-with-covid-19
Health Harvard Edu. Bog. When Lockdown Is Not Actually Safer. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/when-lockdown-is-not-actually-safer-intimate-partner-violence-during-covid-19-2020070720529
West Tennessee Legal Services, (800) 372-8346 Ext. 250
2020 Ethics Seminar
December 18, 2020, held via Zoom
Email our Pro Bono Coordinator, Andy Cole, for more information.
12:30-1:30- Lewis Jenkins: Law and Power: What Lawyers Can Learn from Ex parte Merryman
1:30-2:30- Laura Chastain: TN Board Developments: Recent Disciplinary Decisions, Ethics Opinions, Rule Changes”
2:45-3:45- Bruce Smith- Ethics Update: 2020- The Year in Review
Chancellor James F. Butler Family Law Seminar Agenda
December 11, 2020, held via Zoom
Email our Pro Bono Coordinator, Andy Cole, for more information.
9:00 a.m. Judge Carma Dennis McGee, “Recent Caselaw Update”
10:00 a.m. William C. Bell, Jr., Rainey, Kizer, Reviere & Bell, PLC, “Is it Marital Property? If so, how to value it.”
11:00 a.m. 15 minute break
11:15 p.m. Chancellor James Butler, "Tips For Better Practice in the Trial Court and Legislative Update"
12:30 p.m. 30 minute break for lunch
1:00 p.m. Marty Clements, Retired Director of the Madison County Emergency Management Agency, “Active Shooter Response Information”
2:00 p.m. 15 minute break
2:15 p.m. Sgt. Chad French, JPD Domestic Violence Unit, DA Jody Pickens, and ADA Josh Dougan, “”Overview of Domestic Violence Issues”
3:30 p.m. Catherine Bulle Clayton, Executive Director of WTLS and Andy Cole, Pro Bono Coordinator of WTLS, “Ethical Considerations — from conflicts to communication to pro bono”
4:30 p.m. Adjourn
West Tennessee Legal Services – Taking a Stand for Racial Justice
West Tennessee Legal Services (WTLS) joins in solidarity with other civil legal aid organizations who have expressed outrage against systematic, long-standing, racial injustices in our country. As an organization devoted to the hope of a more perfect union where justice for all is a basic tenet, we know that justice unevenly administered based on the color of a person’s skin is neither justice for all nor justice at all. We mourn the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and many unnamed others, and acknowledge the long history of repercussions, pain, and fear experienced by people of color in our community and nation. We abhor the persistent racism in our society that denies People of Color equal opportunity identified as self-evident truths in the Preamble of The Declaration of Independence: to pursue the unalienable rights of “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” – specifically, to be safe and healthy, to work and live with dignity, and to flourish.
As an institution whose mission is to advance, enforce, and defend the legal rights of low-income and vulnerable people, we see first-hand the results when access to justice is denied. Following the lead of our friends at the National Legal Aid and Defenders Association (NLADA), WTLS is taking the following steps:
- WTLS has formed an intraoffice Racial Equality Effort group open to all employees committed to racial justice advocacy efforts both internally and in our work to effect positive change.
- WTLS is committed to courageous conversations on race, not shying away from uncomfortable conversations about the history of racism, slavery, and white supremacy. And we are making sure WTLS provides a safe environment for us to have these conversations.
- WTLS is forming genuine and sustainable, community-led partnerships aimed at bridging the racial divide in our country and ensuring our efforts are driven by experiences of People of Color.
- WTLS is becoming a change agent in our own organizations and communities by further centering racial equity in our work.
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words from his 1963 Letter from a Birmingham Jail still ring true: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” To paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt’s statement about establishing peace: “It isn’t enough to talk about [racial justice]. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.” WTLS’ purpose is to provide access to justice, and we continue our work towards that goal.
Do I have to pay my rent and utilities during the COVID-19 pandemic?
While most court proceedings, including those related to eviction actions, have temporarily been postponed, the obligation to make your monthly rental payment has NOT been suspended. Failing to make your payments on time and in full can still result in late fees, and once the courts re-open for all proceedings, eventual eviction actions.
Similarly, your obligation to pay your monthly utility bill has NOT been suspended either. While some utilities companies have chosen not to shut off utilities during this time, most have not made this decision and are still shutting off utilities for non-payment. Even if your utility company has decided not to shut off utilities for non-payment during this time, your responsibility for the payment has NOT ended. Failing to make your payments on time and in full can still result in late fees, and once utility disconnections resume, eventual loss of utility services.
If you have questions regarding your rental obligations, contact WTLS at 1-800-372-8346, ext. 250 and leave a message or online at wtls.org to apply for our services.
Resources During Coronavirus Outbreak
We want to make sure that everyone in our community has the help that they need during the coronavirus outbreak. On this page, we will keep a running list of resources in the counties that we serve. We are wishing health and safety to our clients, to our staff, and to all West Tennesseans.
If you are aware of resources that are not listed on this site, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Updated August 7, 2020 at 4:15 PM
Multi-County Resources and Updates
Families with children who receive free or reduced-cost lunches can receive reimbursement for lost lunches and breakfasts while schools were closed. If your household receives SNAP, this will be added to your EBT card automatically. If you do not receive SNAP, you must apply by June 29 here.
The FBI released a PSA on scams that can occur as you work in a virtual environment during the COVID-19 pandemic
Click here to find WMC Action News' list of free meal distribution sites.
The Tennessee Department of Health and Human Services has issued a policy offering emergency cash assistance for those impacted by the coronavirus outbreak by utilizing TANF funds. Find out more here.
To qualift, a family must:
Have children in the household,
Be at or below the 85th percentile of the State Median Income (below approx. $52,000 a year for a family of 3), and
Be able to show they are impacted by COVID-19 (e.g., job loss due to employer closure for COVID-19)
The emergency benefits will be available to families in the following amounts:
For a family of 1 to 2, $500
For a family of 3 to 4, $750
For a family of 5+, $1000
The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development will extend unemployment benefits to:
Employees who suddenly find themselves out of work as businesses temporarily cease operations during the pandemic and
Those who are quarantined by a physician for COVID-19 and are temporarily away from their job.
Grocery stores designating shopping time for seniors and the vulnerable only, including Dollar General, Target, and Big Lots.
Walgreens is only open from 9 AM to 9 PM. Pickup of select products are also available through their drive thru.
Walmart's new hours are 7 AM to 8:30 PM, and will have seniors-only shopping hour every Tuesday.
Small Business Association providing low-interest loans to small businesses.
Tennesseans that have or need WIC appointments can call 1-800-DIAL-WIC
Spectrum to offer free broadband and WiFi to students without it
Online Alcoholics Anonymous meetings available
National Fair Housing Alliance COVID-19 resource site
UT Extension can help you plan for income loss during the Coronavirus pandemic
From UT Extension - Be Prepared: Food and Water in an Emergency
Avoiding coronavirus scams, from MALS
- Avoid Social Security Benefit suspension scame. Find out more from the Office of the Inspector General.
- Coronavirus stimulus payments information from The Arc
- Informational document on the CARE Act
- IRS has published information on Coronavirus economic impact payments, including
- Who is eligible for payments,
- How the IRS will know how to get payment to you, and
- Where to get more information
- Free legal coaching phone calls for small businesses struggling due to COVID-19
- If you've lost your job, had your hours cut, or are unable to work due to COVID-19, check this WTLS fact sheet for information on state and federal unemployment benefits.
- Free online reading resources, K-5
- Free online reading resources, 6-12
- Grab-N-Go lunch and snack program
- Monday-Friday, 10:30-12:30, Camden Central High School (Gym Doors), Holladay School (Front Door), or Big Sandy School (Front Door)
- Children who participate will be given a free age-appropriate book to read and keep. Find out more here.
- Individuals in Benton County have until March 24 to apply for D-SNAP (Food Stamps). Even folks who were not eligible before could be eligible now. Start the process online or by phone at 1-866-311-4287
- Starting March 23, Crockett County Schools, Alamo City School, and Bells Elementary School are offering free breakfast and lunch to all children under 18 years of age.
- Children 18 years old and under can receive free meals from Gibson County Special School District Meal Service. Learn more and apply online here.
- Gibson County Sheriff's office doing essentials grocery shopping for the elderly and immunocompromised individuals.
Breakfast, lunch, and educational materials available for pickup at 14 schools in Haywood County.
- Daycare available for children of teachers and emergency responders.
- Lexington City Schools are serving meals and snacks to any child under 18 years of age. To participate, you must contact Jan Page at (731) 967-7106 or email@example.com
- Caywood Elementary hosting an emergency feeding program for children who participate in the National School Lunch Program.
- Henderson County Schools will provide a week's worth of breakfast and lunch to all children aged 18 and under, free of charge, starting March 23. Fill out the meal request form here.
- The Henry County School System will provide free breakfast and lunch to students daily Monday, March 16th through Friday, March 27th, regardless of income eligibility.
- Jackson Energy Authority has suspended disconnections for unpaid bills until further notice; bills will accrue. Find out more on JEA's website.
- WIC is now available by phone. Call (731) 423-3020 and press 1 for WIC, or click here for more information.
- Free pickup breakfast and lunch to all JMCSS students aged 18 and under, starting March 23, 2020. More information here.
- RIFA distributing boxes with 30-35 pounds of nonperishable food and some form of protein. Go to their Administrative Offices on Airways Boulevard or call (731) 427-7963.
- Jackson Chamber of Commerce compiled a Covid-19 Small Business Resource Center
- Find a Mid-South Food Bank location near you
- Free meals are available for pick up at nearly all Obion County Schools.
- Breakfast and lunch provided to any child under 18. See the Weakley County Schools website for more information.
Have You Been Given An Eviction Notice?
Tennessee is a judicial eviction state. This means that in order for a landlord to remove a tenant from the property, there must be a court order allowing them to do so and a properly executed Writ of Possession issued by the Court and carried out by local law enforcement. If your landlord tries to remove you through self-help measures (examples: changing the locks, removing doors, turning off your utilities when they are included in your rental payments, etc.) call your local law enforcement office and advise them that you have not been taken to court yet and your landlord is engaging in an illegal self-help eviction. Then contact WTLS at 1-800-372-8346, ext. 250 and leave a message or online at wtls.org to apply for our services.
TennCare is starting the redetermination process for its Long-Term Services and Supports (LTSS) program. This will affect CHOICES recipients. If you or a family member receive a redetermination packet from TennCare, fill it out completely and return it to TennCare before the 30 day deadline. If you do not act quickly, you could lose your benefits. If you need help completing your packet or have questions about your eligibility, contact West Tennessee Legal Services at (731) 423-0616. For more information about the redetermination process, visit here.
WTLS’ Featured Article in the JBJ
West Tennessee Legal Services, Inc. is featured in The Jackson Business Journal's First Quarter 2019 Issue
Within the article, Catherine B. Clayton, Executive Director of WTLS, expresses the need for civil legal services, the expansion in services that WTLS provides, the funding needs of the organization, and explains the agency's priorities when accepting new cases. If you have not had to opportunity, please obtain your copy or visit the www.thejbj.com today.
Ending Veteran Homelessness
West Tennessee Legal Services Announces Sub-Grantee Milestone towards Ending Veteran Homelessness
On Tuesday, October 23, 2018, the Jackson/West Tennessee Continuum of Care (CoC) announced that it is the first CoC in the State of Tennessee to meet the federal benchmarks for effectively ending homelessness among Veterans for its service area. A CoC is defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as “a community plan to organize and deliver housing and services to meet the specific needs of people who are homeless as they move to stable housing and maximize self-sufficiency. It includes action steps to end homelessness.”
As the Direct Grantee of the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) Program grant, West Tennessee Legal Services, Inc. has worked in close partnership for over five years with its Sub-Grantee, Tennessee Homeless Solutions as well as the local Continuum of Care (CoC) to establish a community-wide plan to prevent and end homelessness among Veterans in this area. The Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) Program is funded from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to assist very low-income Veteran families residing in or transitioning into permanent housing and to promote permanent housing.
An end to Veteran homelessness means that every community will have a comprehensive response in place that ensures homelessness is prevented whenever possible, or if it can’t be prevented, it is a rare, brief, and one-time experience. Specifically, every community will have the capacity to:
- Quickly identify Veterans & engage those Veterans that are at risk of homelessness or currently experiencing homelessness.
- Intervene to prevent Veterans from losing housing & divert Veterans from entering the homelessness services system
- Provide Veterans with immediate access to shelter & crisis services without barriers to entry if homelessness does occur
- Quickly connect Veterans that are experiencing homelessness to housing assistance & services that are tailored to meet the unique needs to help achieve and maintain stable housing.
Homelessness is always a tragedy but is especially heart-breaking when a Veteran’s service to our country contributed to the situation. According to a survey released by the VA in May 2018, four of the top 10 unmet needs for homeless veterans result from a lack of legal assistance. They are:
- Legal assistance for child support issues (No. 5 for males, No. 5 for females)
- Legal assistance to help restore a driver’s license (No. 8 for males, No. 8 for females)
- Legal assistance for outstanding warrants and fines (No. 9 for males, No. 10 for females)
- Legal assistance to prevent eviction and foreclosure (No. 10 for males
These unresolved legal issues often contribute to the cycle of poverty that keeps these veterans in a homeless situation. Wrongful eviction or foreclosure may force residents from their homes, robbing them of a stable shelter. Outstanding warrants and fines can pile up beyond a person’s ability to pay, possibly leading to jail time. The ability to bring in money through a job can be hampered by the lack of a fixed address, and without a driver’s license, commuting to a job by other means can be a struggle. Navigating the disability benefits process and medical bills for disabled veterans can be overwhelming.
The spiraling effect of these issues can lead to despair and homelessness. West Tennessee Legal Services works in conjunction with the CoC and other agencies to help veterans with these types of problems affecting their basic needs for which there may be legal solutions.
Gift Card Scam
Posted October 17, 2018
Scammers are Demanding Gift Cards
Scammers seem to want payment with gift cards these days because it makes tracing practically impossible, says the FTC. If you have been asked to make payment with a gift card, don't do it. It is probably a scam to take your money. Scammers get the codes on the back of the gift card, obtain the money you put on the gift card, and go about their way. Gift cards are for gifts, not for payment! For more information, click here.
Bill Reduces Costs of Expungements
Posted May 30, 2017
According to the Nashville AP, Gov. Bill Haslam has signed a law that will make it easier for people convicted of mostly low-level offenses to get their criminal records wiped clean. The law reduces the costs of expunging criminal record convictions from $450 to $270, making it more affordable. The bipartisan measure was championed by two Shelby County lawmakers in an effort to help non-violent offenders who have turned their lives around. The measure, which was sponsored by Rep. Raumesh Akbari, a Democrat from Memphis, and Sen. Mark Norris, a Republican from Collierville, takes effect immediately.