When poor folks have problems that require legal help, those problems often go unresolved - or get worse - because lawyers cost more than they can afford.

However, help is available at no cost to people whose incomes fall below a certain level through North Penn Legal services.

Representatives of the organization, Attorney Cici Stafiuc and Public Benefits Project coordinator William McLaughlin, on Wednesday spoke to a gathering of the Interagency Council of Carbon County.

Stafiuc explained that NPLS, which serves people in 20 counties, including Carbon, handles civil cases only. It does not help with criminal cases, nor does it help Carbon County residents with problems involving Social Security.

The organization can help people with problems involving their landlords, with welfare-related matters such as cash assistance, food stamps, medical assistance, representation during appeals, child care, help in obtaining support for educational goals, overpayments, fraud investigations, and non-criminal charges brought by the Office of the Inspector General.

NPLS also can help with issues involving domestic violence, utility shutoffs, evictions, unemployment compensation, bankruptcy, sheriff/constable sales, tenant housing conditions, tax sale of a personal residence, some lawsuit defenses, and, to a limited degree, child custody and visitation.

NPLS also provides some help with mortgage foreclosures, but clients must be referred by a counseling agency, and the process cannot have reached the actual foreclosure stage, Stafiuc said. The organization also has a program that helps people remove barriers to employment, including expunging criminal records.

McLaughlin, a paralegal, specializes in welfare-related matters.

"So many decisions are made on a daily basis, there are bound to be mistakes," he said. Most problems can be resolved with a phone call, he said. Others may require further effort, and only a small number reach the hearing stage.

Carbon County has very few problems between clients and the county public assistance office, McLaughlin said. Carbon County Assistance Office Executive Director Pat Sasserath said NPLS' telephone number is printed on all notices that are sent to clients.

To find out more about NPLS, access the organization at its website at www.northpennlegal.org, or call toll-free 1-877-953-4250.

In other matters Wednesday, the Interagency Council named Jane Longazel as its vice-president. Longazel, Group Home Director for CONCERN Treatment Unit for Boys in Mahoning Township, replaces Mary Lou McGeehan, Community Education Coordinator for Blue Mountain Health System, whose term ends next month.