by Eliza Schafler
Eliza Schafler is an MHAS Equal Justice Works Fellow sponsored by Greenberg Traurig, LLP.

Today, I finally cleared the remaining medical debt of a client in our Behavioral Health-Legal Partnership (BeHeLP) project. This low-income mother had suffered a health crisis years ago, and despite the fact that she had health insurance at the time and was eligible for the governmental victim compensation program, she fell through the cracks – and ended up with thousands of dollars of debt. It took an attorney and months of pushing through red tape to get her back to a zero balance.

Why do we, BeHeLP, a project developed for children with mental health needs, care about an old debt incurred by a parent? Because the ripple effect of debt is vast. Unpaid bills and phone calls from creditors cause overwhleming stress for parents, which impacts their ability to care for children. Debt can ruin a parent’s credit score, which can prevent the family from finding an apartment and lead to homelessness. Debt can even lead to a lawsuit, which can trigger wage garnishment and reduce a parent’s ability to put food on the table.

For all these reasons, BeHeLP assists parents with medical debt and other consumer debt issues. We consider this part of our work helping families stabilize and thereby promoting children’s recovery.