Earline's story

Photo of Earline Augusus-El

 
 
                                                  
Earline Augustus-El has what it takes to build a just society.
 
After her daughter was killed by a drunk driver, Earline felt trapped between a rock and hard place. The added responsibility of two young grandsons. Grief so crippling she couldn’t work. Earline struggled to make ends meet. As things got tighter, this lifelong social worker reluctantly applied for emergency cash assistance and medical benefits. Unfortunately, like thousands of others, Earline’s application fell into a black hole.
 
The State is required to respond within 30 days to applications to its ‘safety net’ programs. But in reality, Maryland’s applicants often waited up to 180 days or longer. This delay was bad news for Earline and her family. Desperate, she visited food pantries to get groceries and diapers. She worried about losing her home of 30 years. She stopped visiting her doctor and ran out of medication to manage her diabetes. Soon, this led to serious medical complications.
 
Then Earline took a stand. She joined the Public Justice Center and our partners in a lawsuit to force compliance with the laws that require a quick response to people seeking emergency help. In December 2009, she won a victory that helped her family and 55,000 other Marylanders struggling to make ends meet. A Baltimore City judge found in her favor and ordered the State to be in full compliance with the law within twelve months. 
 
Since that decision, State officials have made good strides down a long road. They have reduced the application backlog and improved response times by paying overtime and adding temporary clerical help. They are planning to implement new technology and to reorganize staffing in order to meet requests for help. Whether they can permanently solve the problem without restoring staff lost to budget cuts during the last decade remains to be seen.
 
And while Earline can now feed her family and receive medical care, our work is not done. We must make sure these achievements do not evaporate in the face of massive pending budget cuts. We must make sure that these improvements are permanent. Maryland must never go back to the way things were before.
 
Photograph by Marshall Clarke