MESSAGE FROM OUR EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
We are full of hope as a new decade dawns. It’s like the hope I felt when I and my running buddies reached the 18-mile mark of our first marathon. Hope springs from the realization that mutual support can empower us to meet even the hardest challenges.
2019 was a master class in hope. With each new challenge/opportunity, an army of friends new and old showed up in huge ways to ensure that our clients weren’t standing alone. The year began with TJC’s nutrition team beating back legislative proposals that would have imperiled food security for tens of thousands of working families. We later highlighted census data showing that, due to bureaucratic snafus, Tennessee children have lost health coverage at the highest rate in the nation. TJC mobilized broad support for state reforms to restore their coverage. The year ended with an amazing collective effort to “Block the Block” by rallying opposition to Tennessee’s ill-conceived Medicaid block grant proposal.
The year saw hopeful growth in the scope of TJC’s advocacy. Through insights gained from the nearly 1,500 individual cases handled in 2019, we were able to identify and win correction of a series of systemic state problems that were costing families their health coverage. With a generous Tennessee Bar Foundation grant, we launched a project to improve the ability of unrepresented families to defend themselves in debt collection and eviction lawsuits. In response to revelations that the state has withheld $1 billion in federal income supports and child care for Tennessee’s poorest children, we are working with clients and other organizations to develop a set of consensus recommendations for the responsible stewardship of those funds. In this and our other work, it has been exciting to bring our clients’ voices to those officials whose decisions impact their lives, but who too seldom hear from ordinary Tennesseans.
TJC’s energetic staff and inspiring clients helped deepen people’s understanding of these vital issues through the creative use of social and traditional media. Nearly 300 clients agreed to share their story to make life better for others, and 300 state or national news stories relied on our expertise or featured our clients. TJC’s social media content was liked, shared or commented on a staggering 111,000 times. Almost 60,000 individuals used TJC’s website content to help them do their jobs, better understand a public policy issue or just find a little inspiration.
You are part of an extraordinary posse that makes it all possible. In 2019, as charitable giving declined across the country, TJC experienced a 40% increase in donations.
Volunteers’ invaluable contributions of time and talent also grew.
So, when people ask me with so many challenges how I can be hopeful, the answer is simple. You give me a ringside seat at an inspiring show of generosity, compassion and creativity. Thank you for making 2019 our best year yet.
For over 20 years, the Tennessee Justice Center (TJC) has been standing with vulnerable Tennessee families and helping them access basic necessities of life. After Congress placed restrictions on legal services programs, effectively creating a two-tier justice system, community and bar leaders from all parts of our state and from every part of the political spectrum, came together to form TJC to fill the gap.
TJC helps families from Memphis to Mountain City, by cutting through red tape to access vital services like health care and nutrition. Using what we learn from individual cases, TJC pursues systemic reforms that benefit all Tennesseans. TJC advocates for a state that supports the health care and economic infrastructure on which our communities depend.
TJC uses legal tools to improve the lives of millions of Tennesseans and hold government accountable. Some of our successes include:
– Winning tens of thousands of Tennesseans whose TennCare applications are delayed (some for months) the right to appeal. (Wilson v. Gordon)
– Securing and defending for decades appeal rights for individuals whose TennCare HMOs denied services ordered by their doctors. (Binta B. v. Gordon)
– Winning extensive improvements to TennCare services for over 750,000 children, ensuring they had access to all medically necessary services ordered by their doctor. (John B. v. Emkes)
– Ensuring that thousands of Tennesseans were granted notice and appeal rights when the State sought to terminate their TennCare eligibility. (Rosen v. Goetz)
– Protecting the health and independence of older adults and people with disabilities by ensuring access to comparable services at home rather than a nursing home. (Newberry v. Goetz)
– Blocking state legislation that would make 300,000 more Tennesseans food insecure by cutting SNAP benefits.
– Joining partners and affected families to persuade state officials to establish a “Katie Beckett” program in Tennessee, winning over 3,000 families the Medicaid home health services they need to care for their medically fragile children at home and avoid their institutionalization.
SPOTLIGHT: INFLUENCING OPPOSITION TO A MEDICAID BLOCK GRANT
“Tennessee moves to sabotage its own healthcare system.” The Washington Post editorial described a new Tennessee law seeking a federal Medicaid block grant. The plan would give Tennessee a blank check to cut TennCare and use its federal funding for other purposes. Congress rejected block grants in 2017, but President Trump hopes to accomplish the same goal by agreements with individual states. Tennessee is the first state to take the bait.
When state officials released the block grant proposal, it received a favorable public response. Technically complex, the plan was obscured by a lot of happy spin suggesting it would improve care. But TJC’s on-the-ground experience and technical expertise enabled us to immediately recognize the block grant as an existential threat to the coverage of 1.4 million vulnerable Tennesseans. TJC took an all-hands-on-deck approach to rallying opposition. We organized expert briefings for the press, broke down the proposal in webinars and fact sheets, launched a social media campaign, and prompted over 100 of national and state organizations to submit comments opposing the proposal.
Because of the relationships TJC has developed over two decades, we were able to be the catalyst for transforming the public discussion. We proudly stood with affected families who spoke up on behalf of their children with special needs, their loved ones in nursing homes and their neighbors for whom TennCare is a critical lifeline. Over 400 friends and allies turned out for public hearings held across the state, summarized in the newspaper headline, “Tennessee’s Medicaid block grant: 3 days, 3 public hearings, zero support.” Together, we generated over 6,000 public comments opposing the block grant proposal during the federal comment period.
That should give federal officials pause. If it doesn’t, TJC will take the fight to court. Whatever may come, we’ll continue to be there with you, advocating for a shared vision of a better Tennessee for all.
ADVOCACY FOR TENNESSEE
When systemic problems affect lots of people, we find a way to address the laws, practices, and policies that cause those problems. We address these issues in the courts, work with partners to educate and inform lawmakers and the public, and equip Tennesseans with the tools they need to make their voices heard.
The TJC Nutrition Team works to end hunger in Tennessee by improving policy, driving administrative advocacy, and increasing access to the federal nutrition programs. We monitor state and federal legislation related to SNAP, WIC and the Child Nutrition Programs. Our team works with low-income clients across the state that have been wrongfully denied or lost their SNAP benefits. We address child hunger and poverty through WIC expansion efforts and advocating for stronger child nutrition programs. We educate our community about how nutrition programs like SNAP and WIC put food on the table for Tennesseans who struggle with hunger and pull families out of poverty. Over 1,000 stakeholders receive our monthly updates and dozens of partners statewide join us at trainings and regional anti-hunger meetings to work together for a state where no Tennessean goes hungry.
TJC’s life-changing nutrition work defends and supports:
Rachael contacted the Tennessee Justice Center when she was pregnant with her son Oliver. During a regular OBGYN visit she found out that she had randomly lost her TennCare coverage. Upon investigation, she learned that the Health Department had never sent the rest of her application after she was given Presumptive Eligibility, prompting TennCare to end her coverage. However, she never received any letters warning her that her coverage was ending.
Rachael was without coverage at a critical time in her pregnancy. She was extremely nervous because her doctor told her that her placenta might detach and cause her to go into early labor. At one point, she rushed to the hospital because her water was leaking. At the height of these medical concerns, her doctor’s office also warned her that she had two weeks to get her TennCare fixed or they would have to stop treating her.
We knew that we needed to work quickly to get her coverage reinstated. We wrote a letter to TennCare’s General Counsel, explaining the urgency of her situation and the mistakes TennCare made that put her in this position. Luckily, TennCare approved her coverage again just in time for her to continue seeing her doctor. She safely delivered her healthy baby boy Ollie in October, and we were able to help her get him approved for TennCare too. With her TennCare fixed, she can now focus on her two wonderful kids, AJ and Ollie.
Total income: $2.15 M
Earned Income 1%
Total expense: $1.89 M
Fundraising (Non-personnel) 4%
For a full PDF version of Tennessee Justice Center’s 2019 Annual Report click here.