January 23, 2017 – The Consumer Advocacy Project is another new Project at Legal Aid. This one year old Project serves a critical need in the community for low income residents of Palm Beach County who face consumer law issues such as debt collection, foreclosure, financial exploitation, bankruptcy, credit card fraud, scams, student loans issues, and wage and account garnishments.
The mission of the Consumer Advocacy Project is to provide legal advice and representation to consumers regarding their rights under federal and state law. Consumer protection laws are federal and state statutes that govern sales and credit practices involving consumer goods. These statutes prohibit and regulate deceptive or unconscionable advertising and sales practices, credit financing and reporting, debt collection, harassment, and other aspects of consumer transactions.
The Project is funded as a result of a settlement between Chase Bank USA and The Florida Attorney General’s Office (plus the federal government and 47 other Attorney General offices in the country). The Consumer Advocacy team of Supervising Attorney Tequisha Myles, Staff Attorneys Andrew Batog and Rachel Bentley, and Paralegal Laika Sanchez have provided advice and counsel for 300-400 clients in the Project’s first year. Many referrals have come from Legal Aid’s other Projects including Elder Law, Coverage to Care Legal Initiative, Ryan White, and Low Income Taxpayer Clinic.
A growing aspect of the Consumer Advocacy Project is the Clean Slate Initiative. It allows former defendants who cannot get a driver’s license because of court costs and fines, to do community service to satisfy their debts. They can work for $10 per hour until they complete their community service or establish a payment plan to pay off their debt to the court and regain their driver’s license so they can begin a productive life free of court debt.There is no other service locally that can help the low income community with consumer law issues. Staff attorneys Rachel and Andrew both agree that Florida is not considered a consumer friendly state and the counsel and advice they provide their clients is critical to the low income community who often struggle with debt.