Quick Fact

In 2012, LSAP was successful in advocating for provisions in the Health Care Exchanges, which are being developed as part of Federal Health Care Reform, that ensure that the exchanges are consumer focused and easy to understand. These provisions should make it easier for individuals who are purchasing coverage and receiving subsidies through the exchange to understand the options available.

Giving a voice to the voiceless

Legal Aid’s policy advocates champion a wide range of issues that impact thousands of Minnesotans every year. We are the “voice for the voiceless” in many policy-making arenas. We bring highly specialized technical skills to bear at all stages of the policy-making process. Most of our policy work is done through the Legal Services Advocacy Project (LSAP), a statewide division which is supported by all of the regional legal services programs in the state.  LSAP advocates on behalf of low-income Minnesotans — including youth, elders, and persons with disabilities — in legislative and administrative forums. LSAP’s focus is on issues affecting housing, economic stability, family law and health.

We strive to:

  • Improve state laws and rules that affect low-income Minnesotans – including youth, elders, and persons with disabilities
  • Represent low income clients’ issues at the legislature and before administrative bodies
  • Educate our clients and groups that work with our clients about laws and issues

Our work has directly resulted in:

  • improved training and employment opportunities
  • better health care
  • enhanced child support
  • domestic abuse protection
  • improved access to hunger resources
  • tenants’ rights
  • greater housing opportunities
  • stronger consumer protections

Housing

LSAP’s policy advocates work to help low-income homeowners experiencing foreclosure or other actions that could lead to the loss of their homes and to advance the rights of tenants and residents of manufactured home parks.

Highlights

• LSAP crafted and secured passage of the one of the strongest foreclosure relief bills in the nation, requiring, among other things, that homeowners receive loan modifications for which they are eligible and providing for the right of a homeowner to halt or set aside a foreclosure for violations.

• LSAP crafted and gained passage of legislation to protect consumers considering entering into contract for deed transactions and guard against deceptive and misleading practices by sellers.

• LSAP, working with allies, negotiated  “The Tenants’ Bill of Rights,” the most comprehensive set of tenant protections enacted in the previous 20 years.

• LSAP coordinated a legislative work group and led a legislative effort to protect tenants in foreclosed properties, including strengthening the rights of tenants to maintain or restore essential utility services.

• LSAP crafted and successfully advocated for enactment of legislation helping manufactured home owners, protecting them against predatory lending practices regarding the homes they purchase and enhancing their rights to remain on the land they lease.

• LSAP successfully advocated for legislation that made Minnesota one of a handful of states that permits victims of domestic violence residing in rental properties the right to break leases without liability to protect their safety.

• LSAP crafted and secured passage of the nation’s strongest anti-predatory mortgage lending law, which subsequently formed part of the Dodd-Frank Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act.

• LSAP, working with allies, helped craft and navigate through the legislative process a bill significantly strengthening protections against shutoff of heat and electricity for 400,000 low-income households during the winter.

Economic Stability

Reaching economic stability can be a complex task for many low-income Minnesotans.  LSAP works to help individuals and families navigate the safety net system that includes the Minnesota Family Investment Program and the food assistance (SNAP) program, while advocating for policies that help low-income Minnesotans build wealth and protect against predatory financial practices that erode hard-earned assets.

Highlights

• LSAP strengthened Minnesota’s law protecting consumers against loan modification scams and payday lenders attempting to evade Minnesota’s strong auto title lending law.

• LSAP’s advocacy was instrumental in simultaneously assuring the first effective increase in the public assistance grant in 27 years for 20,000 low-income families and preserving the Emergency Assistance Program – which serves 17,000 low-income individuals and families in crisis -- from elimination.

• LSAP successfully advocated for restoration of payments for absent days under the Child Care Assistance Program, ensuring that about 35,000 parents have access to day care and job support, and children have access to early education advantages.

• LSAP played the central role in preserving access to public assistance programs by successfully advocating  to defeat dozens of measures aimed at reducing program eligibility and benefits.

• LSAP crafted and secured passage of one of the strongest debt settlement bills in the country, protecting financially vulnerable consumers against unscrupulous debt relief scams.

• LSAP strengthened the protections against unscrupulous tax preparers and predatory tax preparation practices that it had crafted and became law in 2003.

• LSAP designed and secured passage of legislation establishing the Family Stabilization Services Program, which protects people who are unemployable due to factors such as physical or mental illness or disability.

Family Law

LSAP’s policy advocates focus on policies that affect family law issues such as parenting time, domestic abuse, divorce, child support, child custody, divorce, spousal maintenance, and paternity. LSAP’s work is dedicated to low-income Minnesotans and their children, to ensure Minnesota’s family law and policies encourage safe, supportive family relationships, and promote the best interests of children

Highlights

• LSAP, working with the Ramsey County Attorney, secured passage of the Family Reunification Act, permitting the legal reunification of a child and a parent in certain circumstances.

• LSAP worked with legislators, advocates and the Secretary of State’s Office to strengthen and improve the Safe at Home Program, which ensures confidentiality and protects the safety of hundreds of victims of domestic violence.

• LSAP has successfully advocated to ensuring that child custody decisions focus on the needs and interests of children and retain protections for victims of abuse.

Health Care

LSAP’s advocates work to ensure access to quality and  affordable  health care for low-income Minnesotans, including elders, vulnerable and underserved populations, and people with disabilities.  LSAP has worked to improve the Medical Assistance Program, and ensure that MinnesotaCare provides the broadest and most affordable coverage for as many low-income individual adults, children, and families as possible.

Highlights

• LSAP was instrumental in ensuring Minnesota fulfilled the promise of the Affordable Care Act to ensure more clients have access to affordable health care by working with allies to advocate for strong Minnesota Health Exchange legislation and to save MinnesotaCare as a Basic Health Plan option for 130,000 low-income Minnesotans.

• LSAP was an instrumental part of a coalition of advocates who succeeded in saving health care coverage for the General Assistance Medical Care population, comprised of thousands of very lowest-income and most vulnerable Minnesotans.

• LSAP worked successfully to increase access to health care coverage for 23,000 children in low-income families under MinnesotaCare.

Partners In Action

Legal Aid Partnerships

Legal services,  pro-bono attorneys
and Hunger Solutions unite

A child receives a red stamp on his or her hand because the lunch account balance was negative. A cafeteria worker discards a young girl’s lunch because she couldn’t pay for it. A student’s diploma is withheld until an overdue lunch balance is paid. These stories may sound far-fetched, but they’re all true. As poverty grows, more children look to school for what might be their only meal of the day. And when this is denied due to financial issues, the child is the one who ultimately loses.

Partnerships are vital to expand the reach of our services.

Learn more about partnerships

LSAP Team

Ron Elwood

Ron Elwood

Supervising Attorney

(651) 842-6909 or relwood@mnlsap.org

Ron Elwood is the Supervising Attorney at the Legal Services Advocacy Project. Ron specializes in these primary areas: consumer law, landlord/tenant law, tax policy, and utility law.

Prior to joining LSAP in 1998, Ron worked in management positions at the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs and the New York State Public Service Commission, as a consultant on energy matters for the Minnesota State Legislature, and as a planner on housing and homelessness for the Ramsey County Human Services Department. Ron earned his J.D. from William Mitchell College of Law. Ron also holds a Ph.D. in Cinema Studies from New York University, an M.A. in Cinema from the University of Southern California, and a B.A. in Communications from Queens College of the City University of New York.

Melinda Hugdahl

Melinda Hugdahl

Staff Attorney

(651) 842-6907 or mthugdahl@mnlsap.org

Melinda Hugdahl is a staff attorney with the Legal Services Advocacy Project (LSAP). Prior to joining LSAP in 2006, Melinda was a staff attorney with the DHS Child Support Enforcement Division and an attorney in private practice, where she specialized in family law, juvenile law, and criminal law. In 2012, Melinda was presented with the prestigious National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) Medallion Award for her outstanding advocacy work with the Minnesota Safe at Home Act, which protects victims of domestic violence. Primary areas of practice include: domestic violence, family law, juvenile law, DHS licensing, child care policy, and policies related to the judicial system.

Melinda holds a B.A. from Luther College and a J.D. from William Mitchell College of Law.

Jessica Webster

Jessica Webster

Staff Attorney

(651) 842-6902 or jlwebster@mnlsap.org

Jessica Webster is a staff attorney with the Legal Services Advocacy Project (LSAP). Since 2000, Jessica has worked as a public interest advocate on issues related to affordable housing, public education, gender equity, HIV/AIDS in South Africa, and environmental protection. Jessica joined LSAP in 2006.Her primary areas of focus are: public benefits law (including MFIP), hunger, and unemployment insurance law.

She holds a B.A. from Purdue University, a Masters in Public Policy (M.P.P.) from the University of Minnesota, and a J.D. from William Mitchell College of Law.

Dave Snyder

Dave Snyder

Coordinator, Minnesota Asset Building Coalition Initiative

(651) 842-6910 or dsnyder@mnlsap.org

Dave Snyder is the Coordinator of the Minnesota Asset Building Coalition Initiative. Prior to joining LSAP in 2012 Dave worked at Jewish Community Action, where he was instrumental in the creation of the Northside Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC), an interfaith, multi-racial coalition that supported leaders to advocate for economic justice.

He holds an M.A. in Political Science from Johns Hopkins University and a B.A. in Philosophy from Goucher College in Towson, MD.

Colette Tate

Colette Tate

Office Manager

(651) 842-6901 or cmtate@mnlsap.org

Colette Tate is the Office Manager at the Legal Services Advocacy Project (LSAP). Colette’s duties include supporting the LSAP attorneys both during and outside of the biennial legislative sessions, supporting the coordinator of the Minnesota Asset Building Coalition, and providing administrative and technical expertise for all the staff. Prior to joining LSAP in 1999, she served in various capacities during her 11 years as a staffer with the United Way of St. Paul.

Galen Robinson

Galen Robinson

Advocacy Director

(612) 746-3750 or grobinson@mylegalaid.org

Galen Robinson is a Litigation Director with Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid and the Advocacy Director for the Legal Services Advocacy Project, providing litigation support in state, federal and appellate practice. He has 30 years of experience working in legal services programs representing low-income clients both as a general practitioner in rural offices with experience in family, benefits, immigration, housing, consumer and farm law, and as specialist in the areas of housing and consumer law. Mr. Robinson has also been involved in legislative advocacy concerning housing and consumer issues. Prior to becoming a litigation director with Mid-Minnesota Legal Assistance, Mr. Robinson managed the consumer and housing units for the Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis, the Southside office of the Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis, and the Little Falls office of St. Cloud Area Legal Services. Prior to moving to Minnesota, he spent four years working as a staff attorney for Legal Aid of Western Oklahoma.

Mr. Robinson is also an adjunct professor at William Mitchell Law School teaching trial and appellate advocacy skills, and a volunteer faculty member for the National Institutes of Trial Advocacy, Midwest Region. He is a 1979 graduate of the University of Illinois School of Law, and a founding member of the National Association of Consumer Advocates.