Systemic injustice and legal crises don’t go away because of a virus. For those experiencing food insecurity, in need of medical support, and more, please check out the resources below provided by our friends at Lawyers for Civil Rights Boston: 

Need Legal Help or Support During COVID-19?

The public health crisis is unfolding rapidly so Lawyers for Civil Rights Boston created a landing page to share multilingual information. This information is accurate as of March 16.

The English version can be downloaded here. La información sobre sus derechos está disponible en español aquí.

Medical Support 

If you are undocumented and need healthcare, you may be eligible for MassHealth Limited, which provides care for medical emergencies, including visits to an emergency room. Public charge does not apply to MassHealth Limited. Visit the MA Connector or call 1-800-841-2900 for English and Spanish service.

All health insurance carriers are required to provide medically necessary telehealth, testing, counseling, treatment, and vaccination (once it’s developed and available) services without charging copays and coinsurance or applying a deductible.

Food Security

Many cities and towns will continue to provide free breakfast and lunch to students in their respective districts. Click on the city to see their meal schedules and locations: Boston, Brockton, Cambridge, ChelseaLawrence, and Lowell.

Unemployment Assistance

You may be eligible for unemployment benefits if you are quarantined or if you left work due to risk of exposure or to care for a family member. You don’t have to provide medical documentation, but you must: (1) remain in contact with your employer, and; (2) be available for work your employer may have that you’re able to do. To apply, please visit the Unemployment Assistance website. The state is moving to waive the one week waiting period for benefits.

Undocumented residents are not eligible for unemployment benefits. Lawyers for Civil Rights Boston is advocating for the creation of a Fund for Affected Individuals and Families to support people who don’t qualify for Unemployment assistance.

Protecting Workers

The Massachusetts Attorney General is accepting online complaints related to minimum wage, overtime payment, sick time, meal breaks, and worker protections. You can file a complaint with the Fair Labor Division here or call the hotline at 617-727-3465.

Victims and Witnesses of Crime

If you are the victim or witness of a crime, please file a report with the police or the District Attorney’s office. You have the right to report a crime even if you are undocumented. Immigration is prohibited from conducted arrests in Massachusetts state courthouses.

Driver’s Licenses (RMV)

The RMV will implement a 60-day extension to the current expiration date for Class D, Class DMs, ID cards, and Learner’s Permits within the RMV system. All individuals with expired/expiring credentials dated between March 1, 2020 and April 30, 2020, will continue to have an active status until sixty (60) days after the expiration date printed on their credential. This does not apply to immigrants whose end of stay in the United States is the same as the expiration date on their driver’s license, ID card, or Learner’s Permit.

Public Charge and Immigration Issues

Seeking testing, treatment, or preventative care for coronavirus will not be used against anyone in any public charge analysis. Remember that using public benefits will not impact you if you are a green card holder, U.S. citizen, refugee, asylum seeker, VAWA recipient, TPS holder, or holder of a U or T visa. Many benefits, including CHIP, WIC, LiHEAP, SSDI, free school lunch, and disaster relief, are not included in public charge. You can always call LCR’s English-Spanish public charge hotline at 617-988-0609 with any questions.

For assistance, call Lawyers for Civil Rights at 617-981-4308 or email

This information is accurate as of 5 PM on Monday, March 16, 2020.

Visit lawyersforcivilrights/coronavirus for regular updates.

Esta información está disponible en español aquí y en nuestra página de recursos del Coronavirus.


Want to stay informed on the latest issues Massachusetts Appleseed is working on?
Sign up for future action alerts.

By Jake Hofstetter | Research and Policy Associate

In just two decades, cell phones have gone from convenient accessories for making calls to essential tools in our everyday lives. Without our phones we lose not only our capacity to entertain ourselves in waiting rooms, but also the ability to access a repository of information we need for every aspect of our lives. Because of our reliance on our iPhones, there are only a few places where visitors are banned from possessing cell phones: prisons, secret military installations, and, more surprisingly, 56 Massachusetts courthouses. Although well-intentioned, these bans separate court visitors and litigants from an essential tool in managing their cases, leaving many court users without attorneys at a serious disadvantage.

Cell phone bans exist to minimize distractions and make sure courthouses remain safe and confidential. Ringing phones and noises from videos or apps disrupt the functioning and integrity of legal proceedings. On the darker side, gangs or other criminals may use cell phones for photographing or intimidating witnesses and undercover police officers. Although these concerns are legitimate, they shouldn’t outweigh the harm that cell phone bans cause as well as the common-sense solutions that can prevent the misuse of cell phones without banning them.

Evidence from reporting, independent research, and the court system’s own internal investigation continue to show that cell phone bans are harmful to court users representing themselves without attorneys. A report from the Massachusetts Appleseed Center for Law and Justice published last summer demonstrated that cell phone bans prevent court users from presenting evidence, scheduling court dates, and referencing information needed for filling out legal forms. The fact that lawyers can bring their cell phones to court makes these policies even more unfair for those representing themselves. The court system’s own internal investigation, released by the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission last month, also found that blanket cell phone bans created “unacceptable hardships” and should be replaced with more permissive policies such as universal exceptions for those with official business at the court and storage options for facilities that truly need to prohibit cell phone use for security reasons.

Besides frustrating the efforts of those trying to represent themselves in court, cell phone bans also create serious burdens for all court visitors and users. Court users regularly use cell phones to manage childcare, transportation, and their absences from work. Since many people do not know about cell phone bans before coming to court and there are no options for storage, some court users may be left to decide whether to attend their court appearances or not. Others choose to hide their phones outside courthouses in the bushes or pay private businesses to store their phones. These options may lead to court users losing their phones or having to pay extra money, that they may not have to spare, to store them.

Most courthouses don’t need cell phone bans to be safe or orderly. In fact, many courthouses in Massachusetts (and across the country) do not have cell phone bans and function without serious disruptions or witness intimidation. Unfortunately, a minority of court users will always take calls in inappropriate places or, worse, record court proceedings for nefarious purposes. As the court system’s own internal investigation noted, however, it is fairer to court users to regulate the use of cell phones rather than the possession of cell phones. The first approach leads to reasonable policies where cell phone use can be restricted in certain facilities or courtrooms. The second approach creates an unfair burden on those who cannot afford to hire an attorney to represent them and makes it difficult for all members of our technology-attached society to use courthouses.

Changing cell phone bans in courthouses may seem like a small step, but it is an important one in expanding access to justice in Massachusetts. The growing numbers of people who must represent themselves in court already have trouble navigating our complex legal system without having to give up an essential tool like their smartphone. The court system and Access to Justice Commission deserve credit for their willingness to study this issue as well as their recognition that cell phone bans are harmful and should be replaced with more permissive and effective policies. These changes will also assure that our legal system remains fair and up to date with the rapid technological change occurring all around us.


Want to stay informed on the latest issues Massachusetts Appleseed is working on?
Sign up for our mailing list.

Kristen Graves, Board Member

Can you tell me how you first got involved with MA Appleseed? What drew you to the mission?

I applied for a summer internship with MA Appleseed after my first year of law school, but I did not get the job! Instead, I ended up working for the City of Boston as a legislative assistant for the Boston City Council. Around that time, Board member Lawrence Friedman invited me to work with the Marketing Committee at Appleseed. We ended up organizing a big Board retreat and did a lot of strategic planning and organizational soul-searching. We hired a new Executive Director, streamlined our project portfolio, and developed a signature project. We also started the Good Apple Reception, both as a way to highlight “Good Doobies,” but also as a way to generate funds. Once I graduated law school and started working for Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) as a public defender, I was invited to join the Board.

I saw it as another opportunity to engage in social justice work from a systemic angle, with really smart, really well-connected people.

You weren’t just a Board member – you were actually the interim Executive Director for a period of time! Can you talk a little bit about that?

I was the interim Executive Director during my third year of law school and was asked to step in during a leadership transition. I helped run the Board meetings, hired interns for the summer, overhauled the office, and generally kept the lights on during a tough time for the organization. Afterwards, I went off to study for the bar exam, and the Board went on to hire the Great Joan Meschino as the new Executive Director! By then, the National Appleseed Center had a new Executive Director as well, and a great fundraising model. We used it ourselves, and that was our first Good Apple Reception. It was a game-changer for us.

What has surprised you most about working with MA Appleseed?

How much everyone is looking for ways to make a genuine impact.

What is your favorite memory from your time with MA Appleseed?

That moment when I looked at the financials and realized we actually had a budget and money to pay staff and work on projects. When I started working for MA Appleseed, we had maybe $5,000 in the bank.

What projects have been most meaningful to you?

The School-to-Prison Pipeline. I remember encountering the issue when I was interning for CPCS in their juvenile defender unit. I started talking to a few folks at Harvard Law School and the Georgia and Texas Appleseeds about the scope of the problem. I wasn’t sure what role MA Appleseed could play, but I knew we had to get involved in this issue. At that time, MA Appleseed was looking for a signature project and this seemed to be a good fit for us.

You’re a public defender, on the front lines of this kind of work. What’s your personal philosophy about access to justice?

That there isn’t enough of it. There’s more access to justice for criminal defendants than for any other litigants, thanks to Gideon. When I think of access to justice within the context of my work as a public defender, I think about it more in terms of having access to affordable and competent counsel. There needs to be a civil Gideon.

You’re departing from the MA Appleseed Board of Directors this year. Do you have any advice for current and future Board members, or any final thoughts with which to leave the organization?

Keep your eyes peeled. There are plenty of everyday issues that need to be addressed systemically. When you come across something in your daily work that doesn’t seem right, figure out how to leverage MA Appleseed’s resources to address it. Chances are pretty high that you aren’t the only one who has noticed that something about that needs to change.

Kristen Graves joined the Board of Directors of Massachusetts Appleseed in 2007, and we thank her for the years of passion and energy she has dedicated to promoting equal rights and opportunities for all Massachusetts residents.


Want to stay informed on the latest issues Massachusetts Appleseed is working on?
Sign up for our mailing list.

Thank you to everyone who raised their voices and called their State Representatives to advocate for our FY20 budget priorities! The House budget debates have come to an end, and the results are in. And as is often the case with the state budget, the results are…mixed. To see the full, finalized House budget, click here. For a deeper dive into our budget priorities – safe and supportive school environments, civil legal aid, and youth homelessness – read more below.

Safe and Supportive School Environments

Adequate funding to continue the implementation of the Safe and Supportive Schools program is necessary to ensure that all students are empowered to succeed in school. However, last month the House rejected Rep. Ruth Balser’s Amendment #1099 to maintain funding at $500,000, instead reducing funding for this line item to $400,000.

The Safe and Supportive Schools law was passed in 2014 to support an expansive and innovative vision of safe and supportive whole-school cultures that address many barriers to learning in Massachusetts schools.

But without level funding in 2020, the Safe and Supportive Schools Grant Program, statewide conferences and leadership summits, a second independent evaluation of all activities, and more may go unfunded. We will advocate for $500,000 – the same amount as last year – for inclusion in the Senate in order to continue this vital work.

Click here for more information about this issue.

Civil Legal Aid

The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) line item (0321-1600) funds free legal services in civil matters for low-income residents of Massachusetts and is an enormously important component of the fight to ensure access to justice in the Commonwealth.

For low-income families facing devastating civil legal aid problems – such as eviction or domestic violence, civil legal services, funded by MLAC, are often their last hope.

The House increased civil legal funding to $23.6 million in its final budget. This is an improvement from the budget recommendations initially released by the House Committee on Ways & Means, but less than Rep. Balser requested in Amendment #1095 and much less than MLAC’s original request of $26 million. Thank you for your advocacy to bring us this far, and we look forward to fighting for the full requested increase in the Senate.

Click here for more information about this issue.

Youth Homelessness

Housing and Support Services

Despite reports of youth homelessness on the rise in Massachusetts, the House rejected Rep. James O’Day’s Amendment #883, which would have increased funding for services and support for youth experiencing homelessness to a much-needed $5 million.

Increased funding for this line item (4000-0007) is vital if we are going to build on past progress and create a sustained, systematic, and effective response to end youth homelessness in Massachusetts.

We are deeply disappointed that the House failed to increase funding for these critical programs to support youth experiencing homelessness, and will continue to push for increased funding in the Senate.

Click here for more information about this issue.

Massachusetts State ID

Government issued identification is necessary to complete many crucial and daily tasks, such as opening a bank account, enrolling in education programs, getting a library card, entering certain government buildings, and more.

But youth experiencing homelessness face several barriers that often prevent them from obtaining ID.

Rep. Kay Khan refiled a bill addressing this issue again this year (despite broad support, the bill failed to pass last session) and she also filed two amendments to the House budget that would have helped eliminate the barriers youth experiencing homelessness face now.

Unfortunately, Rep. Khan’s budget amendments were also not adopted by the House last month. While we will continue to advocate for the refiled bill seeking to solve this throughout this legislative session, we are hopeful that the Senate will include similar language in their proposed budget. Including this language in the final FY20 budget would allow youth experiencing homelessness to access IDs sooner rather than later.

These changes to ensure youth experiencing homelessness are able to obtain state ID should not be controversial. These are common-sense reforms that repair the damage insurmountable hurdles – such as a $25 application fee or requiring a permanent address – have caused for our most vulnerable youth.

Click here for more information about this issue.

So there it is…the first stage of the 2020 budget battle is over. And when it comes to our students, our low-income neighbors, our young people most in-need, we have one thing to say to the Legislature: We must do better.

Thank you for raising your voice and standing up for these key line items in the state budget. The Senate Committee on Ways & Means is scheduled to release its budget recommendations TOMORROW, with amendments due this Friday at noon, and we hope you join us again! Each and every time you reach out to your State Legislators and lend your voice to the chorus calling out on behalf of indigent communities, you are bringing us one step closer to a more equal and just Massachusetts.


Want to stay informed on the latest issues Massachusetts Appleseed is working on?
Sign up for future action alerts.

By Jake Hofstetter | Research and Policy Associate

In the wake of the massacres in Parkland, Florida and Santa Fe, Texas, the Trump administration proposed several steps, such as arming teachers, to improve school safety. In addition to these proposals, the Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her Commission on School Safety released a report that also contained an unrelated policy change — rescinding the Obama administration’s school discipline reforms. Doing away with this policy doesn’t decrease the chances of school shootings. It doesn’t make schools safer. But it does allow schools to discipline students more freely and without considering the harm and racial discrimination that occurs when kids are removed from class.

The Obama administration’s school discipline recommendations were a step in the right direction. The 2014 guidelines recommended school administrators use removals from class or school less frequently due to the harm caused to students’ academic performance. Besides the lack of evidence showing removals improved behavior, these practices were (and still are) having a disproportionate impact on minority students and those with disabilities. To take the place of removals from class, the Obama guidelines encouraged more restorative discipline practices. These policies focused on students’ social and emotional well-being in order to foster safe, nurturing schools. To enforce these guidelines, the Obama administration warned of investigations into schools with serious racial disparities in discipline. Despite the evidence against harsh school discipline practices, the Secretary DeVos’ Commission cancelled the Obama guidelines, citing concerns for school safety and local control over education. School safety matters of course, but there’s something willfully old-fashioned in the administration’s desire to allow harmful school discipline practices to continue for the sake of “maintaining order.”

Admittedly school discipline may seem straightforward and uncontroversial to a lot of Americans. A student breaks the rules, his or her name gets called over the loudspeaker to report to the principal’s office, and the student gets punished. Yet the type of punishment matters a lot. Taking students out of class through detention or suspension harms their chances at academic success. Plus, there’s evidence the practice doesn’t stop misbehavior. We also shouldn’t delude ourselves into thinking that disciplining students is neutral. Black and Latino students are disciplined at greater rates than their white peers even when controlling for poverty and discipline type. Without the threat of federal investigation, there’s no way to tell how school districts across the country will respond. The Obama guidelines may have converted some districts to more effective discipline approaches, but others may return to harmful practices that will lead to worse outcomes for minority, disabled, and LGBT students.

Even though we can’t guarantee what will happen in schools across the country, Massachusetts can continue this important work. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education deserves praise and recognition for its commitment to the principles laid out in the Obama administration’s guidelines despite the new stance of the federal government. Massachusetts Appleseed will also remain committed to our efforts to reform school discipline practices and disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline. Through our Keep Kids in Class project, Massachusetts Appleseed has provided know-your-rights guides for parents, advocated for less exclusionary discipline practices in schools, and published original research on the state of school discipline across Massachusetts. Despite changes in Washington D.C., we remain dedicated to removing barriers to access to public education and supporting at-risk youth to keep kids in class where they are safe, supported, and free to learn.


Want to stay informed on the latest issues Massachusetts Appleseed is working on?
Sign up for our mailing list.

It’s over! The formal session of the Legislature ended at midnight on Tuesday, which means, although the Legislature will continue to meet in informal sessions, action on the most remaining controversial legislation will be tabled until January 2019.

So what are the results? Read more below about how our priorities fared in the FY19 budget and what happened with a bill to break down barriers for homeless youth.

The FY19 State Budget

The state budget is incredibly important to the people in need we fight these legislative battles on behalf of. We’ve seen what happens when funding disappears – just last year, a Cambridge shelter serving LGBTQ youth came within inches of closing its doors for good.

Not this time.

I couldn’t be more pleased to report that all – yes, ALL – of the priorities you helped us fight for made it in!

You raised your voice in the House. You emailed your Senators. You pushed the Conference Committee. You picked up the phone and called Governor Baker. You took action, and it worked.

That means:

Civil Legal Aid: Funded at $21.04 million, a mere $2 million shy of MLAC’s initial request and a $3 million increase over last year. That’s $3 million more going to provide critical free legal services to those who cannot afford an attorney!

The Housing Court Expansion: Fully funded at $2.6 million, a huge win for expanding access to justice into areas of the state where people need it most!

Language Requiring Schools to Publish Meal Charge Policies: Included, and an important step forward in the ongoing fight to end lunch shaming and protect low-income students.

Support for Homeless Youth: Funded at 3.3 million, a huge increase from last year!

Task Force to Tackle Language Access in Schools: Language was included in the budget to establish this task force which will help to ensure schools are fulfilling their obligation to communicate effectively with limited English proficient parents about their child’s education!

For joining us in this series of budget battles and sticking by us for months, thank you.

For standing up and demanding a better, fairer Massachusetts, thank you.

For these remarkable victories, thank you.

Homeless ID Bill

Now the bad news.

Despite our best efforts, Senate Bill 2568, An Act to provide identification to homeless youth and families, did not pass before the end of the formal legislative session. This bill is a common sense reform measure that would make it easier for homeless youth to obtain state identification.

Without state ID, homeless youth cannot apply for a job, enroll in education programs, get a library card, or accomplish a number of other important, everday tasks. This bill would have eliminated the $25 fee and eased the path towards getting a state ID for homeless applicants. It could have made a big difference in the lives of homeless youth around the state.

We’re disappointed the Legislature was unable to pass Senate Bill 2568 before the formal session ended. But we aren’t giving up. This bill passed the Senate unanimously and we still have hope that, working with our community partners, we can get it passed by the House during informal sessions. Stay tuned as we work to make this happen!


Want to stay informed on the latest issues Massachusetts Appleseed is working on?
Sign up for future action alerts.

A Letter from the Executive Director

Dear Friends,

You did it!

After so many months of tireless advocacy, you did it. On Friday, Governor Baker signed the omnibus criminal justice reform bill into law. The bill is now Chapter 69 of the Acts of 2018. And with that, you’ve brought us one step closer to dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline.

This is huge.

Thanks to you, we can now stop kids in Massachusetts schools from being arrested for the vague crime of “disturbing school assembly.” We can keep school resource officers from involving themselves in routine disciplinary situations they are not trained for. And we can start collecting important data on school arrests in the state.

For every phone call you made to your senators and representatives, for every email you sent in support of our provisions, for your time and energy – thank you. 

This was no easy journey, and there were moments when it looked like our provisions to keep kids in class might not make it to the finish line. But you raised your voice time and time again and because you did, we won!

Find your legislators here and thank them for leading the charge to make this bill a reality.

The fight to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline is by no means over. But together, we just took a huge step forward.

Thank you for your continued involvement and support.


Deborah Silva
Executive Director

Want to stay informed on the latest issues Massachusetts Appleseed is working on?
Join our mailing list.

Dear Friends:

Thank you so much for your work on behalf of vulnerable immigrants and refugees, and your interest in Appleseed’s Manual, “Protecting Assets and Child Custody in the Face of Deportation: A Guide for Practitioners and Immigrants.”

Late in 2017, we began working on a few updates to the Manual, particularly about the Executive Orders issued in early 2017. Those updates are now complete and both the full version of the Manual, as well as individual chapters, are posted to our website.

We hope you will download, review, and share individual chapters or the entire Manual with as many people as possible. We also have a limited number of print copies to share with those of you doing direct service work in your communities; to request a copy, fill out the form at the bottom of the Manual page. Our goal is to provide an indispensable product for you and other groups and people who are so incredibly dedicated to helping vulnerable immigrants and refugees. We are proud to be part of this effort, and to work with so many of you.

And we are not done yet! You can stay tuned over the next several weeks and months for a full Spanish translation of the Manual, shorter, more user-friendly versions of various chapters and more. If you know someone who should be subscribed for these updates in the future, please forward this email and encourage them to sign up for email updates.

Finally, we want to extend our deepest thanks to the many pro bono partners that researched, wrote, and edited chapters of the manual. They include: Adams and Reese LLP, Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-based Violence, ASISTA, Ballard Spahr LLP, Cooley LLP, Hogan Lovells LLP, Norton Rose Fulbright, O’Melveny & Myers, The William Alanson White Institute Center for Public Mental Health and White & Case. We also want to thank the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Ford Foundation for their support of this work.

Thank you for your support, comments, suggestions and for the work that you do every day to help immigrant families. We look forward to continuing to work with you!

The Appleseed Team

Kick off the holiday season right and participate in Giving Tuesday on November 28! Join us in celebrating the global day of giving by creating positive impact in our communities.

Giving Tuesday is about working together to make a difference. How will you give this Giving Tuesday?


Give your time on Giving Tuesday and volunteer! With thousands of unrepresented litigants across the state, there’s an urgent need for pro bono representation. Don’t feel comfortable in a courtroom? Contact us at for volunteer opportunities at MA Appleseed. We welcome any skill set, from research, to legal expertise, to marketing, and everything in between!


Give a gift to support access to justice in Massachusetts! We envision a world where everyone gets their fair day in court, regardless of how much money they have or what language they speak. Your generosity can make this vision a reality. Join the movement and give back on November 28!

Become a Fundraiser

This year, we’re taking part in the Newman’s Own Foundation 500k Holiday Challenge! Participating organizations compete for up to $500,000 from when the Challenge launches on November 21, 2017 to when it ends on January 3, 2018.

Join us for the #GivingTuesday Bonus Challenge, where the organization that raises the most on November 28 will win $50,000. Click here to create your own fundraiser to spread the word and support our cause!


Your voice is your most powerful tool – so use it! Share on Facebook and Twitter why you care and what inspires you to give. Enter the #MyGivingStory contest to win up to $10,000 to donate to a charity of your choice, post a pic of you volunteering, or reach out to friends and family – why do they give? Start a conversation online and be sure to tag us @MassAppleseed!

For more information, please contact Madeline Poage, Development and Communications Assistant, at

Thank you for standing up and speaking out in defense of homeless youth. 

You did it! Thanks to your tireless efforts, the Senate has overridden Governor Baker’s veto of funding for homeless youth! With an overwhelming vote of 35-2, the Senate restored $675,000 for housing and services for unaccompanied youth and young adults. 

Months ago, when Governor Baker eliminated line item 4000-0007 from the 2018 state budget, we pledged to not stop fighting until that funding was restored. I want to thank you for fighting with us. 

In the past few months, we have won many important legislative and budget battles that will impact low-income families and youth across the state, and none of it would have been possible without you!

Thank you for your continued support.

Want to stay informed on the latest issues Massachusetts Appleseed is working on?
Sign up for future action alerts.