New story at The New Republic:
In 2017, the Social Security Administration abruptly told 70-year-old Kevin Green they were halting his monthly payments—his only income—until they recovered an alleged overpayment from some 10 or 12 years before. They didn’t explain the overpayment or when it was made. For four months, Green tried to make sense of the claim on his own, but everything he learned seemed incomplete or contradictory. The alleged overpayment might have concerned workers’ comp, or income his ex-wife made after she and Green separated, or the payments to their son. No one could say for sure. What was certain was how losing the check would affect him: a calamitous spiral of events—eviction, bankruptcy, destitution—that could land him among the Bay Area’s 30,000-person homeless population, sleeping in his car.
Green’s ordeal doesn’t just speak to abusive debt collection practices, but to a sprawling, largely invisible crisis in the civil justice system, where 71 percent of low-income Americans experience at least one civil legal problem per year, yet 86 percent of them receive either minimal or no legal help to deal with it.
Read my new story at The New Republic on the movement fighting for a right to counsel in civil cases.