How We Fight Poverty

Center for Civil Justice fights poverty by 

Helping Individuals

Current Issues and Activities

Food Programs
CCJ is a leader in anti-hunger advocacy in Michigan. It works to expand awareness of and participation in federal programs, such as the Supplemental Food Assistance Program (formerly the Food Stamp Program) and WIC.

Healthcare Programs
CCJ uses litigation and policy advocacy to protect and expand access to healthcare for low-income people.  

Economic Security
Center for Civil Justice has the expertise and experience to analyze program changes as they happen, to recognize when the changes aren’t designed or implemented lawfully, to keep community agencies and low-income people informed, and to enforce the law.

Child Nutrition Programs
CCJ uses outreach, recruitment and advocacy to expand and retain participation in child nutrition programs throughout Michigan. CCJ works with the Michigan Department of Education and other child anti-hunger organizations to recruit new sponsors and sites for At-Risk Afterschool MealsSummer Meals and Breakfast in the Classroom programs.

We do not have the staff or resources to handle a large number of cases; therefore, most of our court cases focus on problems that affect large numbers of low-income people. If you have a legal problem that affects only you (family law, landlord/tenant, consumer, etc.) you should contact the legal services office nearest you by clicking on www.michiganlegalaid.org.

CCJ’s core legal services are limited to low-income people in a 14-county region, who have income at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty level. CCJ works with national, state, and local agencies who are involved with poverty issues to identify and address issues that impact low-income families at the federal or state level. Our advocacy efforts include lobbying, litigation, and policy advocacy to improve conditions for low-income families. In some cases, with approval of the Director, CCJ may be able to represent people with income up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level. 

When CCJ has special funding to do so, we may also work on projects or issues that help people with higher incomes. For example:

  • CCJ’s food and nutrition advocacy work, including its Food and Nutrition Helpline, is available statewide and assists people who are eligible for federal food programs, which may include people with income up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level.  
  • The Healthcare Eligibility Law Project in Genesee County does not have specific income guidelines, but because it focuses on government insurance programs, it is best able to help people with incomes up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

Empowering Advocates

CCJ provides expert training, and technical assistance on laws and agency policies that affect low-income people.

Issue Alerts and Pamphlets - CCJ’s "Issue Alerts" outline changes in law and policy, advocacy opportunities, possible legal challenges, tactical suggestions, and generally help agency staff and clients better understand the laws and policies that affect them. They are posted on the world wide web athttp://www.mplp.org and many are referenced in this website. Many useful pamphlets by CCJ and other legal organizations are posted on this website and on the community legal education page athttp://www.michiganlegalaid.org. You may get new "Issue Alerts" sent directly to your email by filling out a request at info@ccj-mi.org.

Food Stamp Information - As part of our anti-hunger project, CCJ offers a toll-free helpline where callers from anywhere in Michigan can get advice on whether they may be eligible for food stamps. We also help calculate an estimate of their benefits. CCJ worked with the Michigan Poverty Law Program to create an internet site with helpful information about the Food Stamp Program and a "calculator" that can help determine eligibility and estimated benefits. Please go to http://www.foodstamphelp.org for more information. The helpline number is 1-800-481-4989. Spanish-speaking advisors are available. We can also arrange for interpreters for other languages.

Training - CCJ may be able to design and present trainings to staff, board members, volunteers and/or clients about the rules and requirements of various state and federal programs that benefit low-income people.  We can also discuss current policy issues related to low-income people and advocacy strategies and opportunities. Contact us at (989) 755-3120 or info@ccj-mi.org for more information.

Telephone Assistance - Agency staff can contact CCJ by phone or email to ask questions about recurring or significant problems they see in their low-income client community.

Advocacy Support for Low-Income People and Those who Assist them - CCJ can provide information and analysis on proposed policy changes and or advocacy. CCJ can help inform organizations about proposed changes and other policy developments that may impact their clients. Call or email us to sign up to receive alerts related to our anti-hunger advocacy, or other poverty-related issues.

Helping Low-Income People Share their Concerns with Policy Makers - If low-income people in our service area wish to tell policymakers their concerns about current or proposed laws, CCJ may be able to help them determine who to contact. In some cases, CCJ may be able to write a letter on their behalf explaining their concerns. Alternatively, CCJ can work with agencies and clients to train them how and when to speak up for themselves. It is recommended that agencies and advocates make the first contact with CCJ’s staff on behalf of the client.

Providing Information and Legal Assistance on Issues Impacting Low-Income People - If an agency, individual, or group identifies a legal problem that seems to affect a number of low-income people, or is the result of an apparently illegal policy or practice, CCJ may be able to take legal action. CCJ is able to file class-action lawsuits and challenge illegal policies instituted as a part of state or federal welfare reform – areas where federally funded legal services programs may be unable to act.

Working with Community Groups and Coalitions to Develop Advocacy Strategies - CCJ may be able to provide technical assistance to groups and coalitions that are interested in state-level policies and improving the opportunities for low-income people to become self-sufficient. CCJ’s staff may be able to help groups working to benefit low-income people and identify specific strategies to address the issues at the state or local level. These strategies may include legislative advocacy, community education and media outreach.


Legal Advocacy to Address Systemic Legal Problems

Thousands of low-income people depend on government systems and programs to help meet their most basic needs. This means that government policies affect whether these families have enough food to eat, medicine to treat medical conditions, heat and water in their homes, and quality care for children and the elderly. These systems and rules can be very confusing, even for people who work with them all the time.

When someone contacts us about a problem they are having with one of these systems, we look at the reasons for the problem. We ask whether the problem is caused by a policy, procedure or system that could also affect other people. Our lawyers and policy analysts focus their advocacy efforts on issues where we can make a difference for many people at once. 

Here are some of the ways we use systemic advocacy to make a difference for low-income people:

  • Review and Comment - We review proposed and final statewide policies and procedures. We make sure these policies follow state and federal law. If they don't, we bring our concerns to elected and agency officials.  We also file comments in rule-making proceedings.
  • Propose Constructive Alternatives - When we learn that many people are confused about issues or we hear that there are recurring mistakes, we may propose revisions to notices, policies, or procedures. We identify specific problems and propose solutions like new language or models.  We urge officials to use options that can help more eligible people access help and also reduce the burden on government systems.
  • Enforce the Law - If a policy or practice violates the law and we cannot correct it through informal means, we may file suit to enforce the law.  Our litigation is usually filed as a class action which means it may affect thousands of people in Michigan.