Expanding Collaboration with Boston Public Library Helps Individuals Seal Criminal Records, Apply for Benefits, and Obtain Legal Advice

In addition to its work with veterans, LSC’s Safety Net Project is building a unique collaboration with the Boston Public Library (BPL) to help individuals from all walks of life obtain Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits; seal criminal records that may be preventing them from obtaining jobs and housing; and provide advice on a host of other civil legal matters.

This innovative partnership, which features Zoom information sessions and individual consultations with Harvard Law students and advocates working in the Safety Net Project, grew out of needs laid bare by the COVID pandemic. The BPL successfully promoted the sessions on its website and through outreach to library card holders. Virtual programs focused on criminal record sealing services have attracted over 100 people and resulted in 25 people getting their records sealed, with several more awaiting confirmation of sealing and still more who are eligible for expungement of offenses no longer crimes. SNAP sessions, held monthly, have attracted between 25 and 70 people each session, including veterans, military families, college students, and single adults who previously might have been unaware that they could qualify for assistance. Many area colleges are registering staff from their student services offices so that they can be better prepared to assist and advise their students.

“Ironically, when we did these sessions in-person at the library, we’d be lucky to get 10 or 15 people,” says Julie McCormack, who leads the Safety Net Project. “Now, these student-organized sessions are actually able to reach more people, and we can have an information session followed by individual Zoom meetings to help specific people with other civil legal advice they may need.”

The Safety Net Project also hosts virtual drop-in hours on a weekly basis. During those sessions, McCormack and colleagues provide advice and referral information on a variety of issues, including but not limited to: housing law and tenants’ rights, disability rights, Social Security and public benefits including SNAP, veterans benefits and military record corrections, divorce, custody and child support questions, LGBTQ+ related concerns, tax issues, consumer loan and small claims court problems.

Related Reading

Summer intern Joseph Mottola writes about the plight of college students going hungry and how SNAP can help

Summer intern Andrew Steinberg writes about the need for CORI sealing services

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