Media coverage spurs policy change

September 29, 2016 - 11:39 am
Last month the Department of Housing and Urban Development proposed a new rule that will apply stricter standards for addressing young children’s exposure to lead in subsidized housing. It was the very rule change that Emily, director of the Health Justice Project, a medical-legal partnership at Loyola University Chicago School of Law, called for in her March 5 New York Times op-ed, “Blame HUD for America’s Lead Epidemic”.


If you want to achieve social justice, you need a watchdog.”
–Emily Benfer at a Voices’ panel on working with journalists. 

Media advocacy contributed to a recent policy victory for Emily Benfer, a JusticeVoices Network member from Chicago.

Last month the Department of Housing and Urban Development proposed a new rule that will apply stricter standards for addressing young children’s exposure to lead in subsidized housing.

It was the very rule change that Emily, director of the Health Justice Project, a medical-legal partnership at Loyola University Chicago School of Law, called for in her March 5 New York Times op-ed, “Blame HUD for America’s Lead Epidemic”. And with a compelling story of real human impact in-hand, Emily was able to follow up that op-ed with a strong CBS Evening News segment that put a human face on the problem.

The agency’s policy has long been out of step with the recommendations of experts, including the Centers for Disease Control. While the CDC recommends intervening in cases where children had blood lead levels of 5 micrograms per deciliter or higher, HUD rules only recommend intervention at levels of 20 micrograms per deciliter or higher. In her op-ed, Emily called HUD’s existing regulations “the most egregious contributors to the epidemic of lead poisoning in public and low-income housing.”

Officials at HUD took note.  On August 31, HUD published for comment the rule change that will bring its regulations in line with the CDC standard. While there is no such thing as an “acceptable” level of lead in a young child’s blood, this is an important and necessary step. And it gives advocates another mechanism for social change, as civil legal aid attorneys across the country prepare to comment on the necessary steps HUD must still take to protect children from lead poisoning. (Email Emily if you want to join the effort.)

This victory is a powerful reminder of the importance of media. For Emily and her advocacy partners, the op-ed and broadcast segment were two more tools they could use to advocate for their clients. In her op-ed, Emily not only shone a spotlight on the outdated policy that put children at risk, she also put forth a specific and realistic solution. That made her message hard to ignore (and it probably didn’t hurt that Times editors chose such an attention-grabbing headline for the piece).

By using the media to amplify their voices, Emily and her partners were able to effect a policy change that will better the lives of their clients. Voices is here to help Emily and other civil legal aid advocates do exactly that. We want to help you use the power of the media to raise awareness about injustice, push for progress and highlight the role of civil legal aid in making justice more accessible for all.

Do you have a story you want our help telling? Do you want to draw attention to a miscarriage of justice or to an innovative solution or policy change? Reach out to us; we are waiting to hear from you.


Organizations mentioned/involved: Health Justice Project
Geographic coverage: Illinois, NATIONAL
Tags: Children & Juvenile, Housing, Housing: Public, Lead Poisoning, Medical-Legal Partnerships
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