The Consumer Bankruptcy Assistance Project (CBAP) is a nonprofit legal services agency formed to meet the needs of low-income Philadelphians. Today, the CBAP is the primary provider of pro bono Chapter 7 bankruptcy representation and debt counseling to individuals whose incomes fall below the federal poverty guidelines. Pro bono attorneys, law students and paralegals volunteer their time to assist clients alongside CBAP's four full-time employees.

In an effort to meet the dire and unmet legal need of Philadelphia's poor, the CBAP was formed in 1992 by consumer and business bankruptcy attorneys, Eastern District of Pennsylvania judges and Community Legal Services Inc. The new nonprofit was created to provide free legal services to those seeking basic Chapter 7 bankruptcy representation but who could not afford an attorney.

CBAP's clients are those who are often the most vulnerable within the city of Philadelphia. This population includes the elderly, disabled, illiterate and homeless. The majority of clients have reached out for our legal help as a last resort and are in desperate need of our services. Clients with severe debt problems are often forced to make agonizing choices, such as pay for medicine or pay a utility bill. These individuals have little expendable income to cover necessities, much less legal expenses. For example, it is common for clients to go without heat or electricity because they cannot afford a mounting utility bill.

Because private bankruptcy representation can cost over $1,500, obtaining a bankruptcy through a private attorney is not an option for most low-income clients. The CBAP is able to help many who find themselves in unbearable and severe debt. The CBAP assists clients with Chapter 7 bankruptcy, primarily addressing consumer, medical, utility and housing debts. As a result of CBAP's help, low-income clients are able to stabilize their finances.

The CBAP is able to assist clients with the discharge of large utility bills. This type of debt puts our clients in a dangerous situation where their heating, gas or electricity can be turned off. With the scorching summer heat or the bitter winter cold, this can be very dangerous for elderly clients or families with young children. By utilizing the Bankruptcy Code to our clients' advantage, the CBAP is able to discharge large utility bills and assist clients on preventing services from being turned off or assisting them with restoring utility services.

Additionally, the CBAP provides information to individuals through telephone consultations. Where applicable, the CBAP steers clients in the direction of helpful assistance programs and other social services agencies. For example, one elderly client with no Internet access was unaware of assistance programs offered by utility companies. The CBAP was able to provide this information to our client and provide her with materials that will help her financial situation in the future.

Sometimes, clients are unable to file for bankruptcy because they have too much equity in their homes and the Bankruptcy Code's exemptions cannot protect the property. The clients could be at risk of losing their home if they proceed through the bankruptcy process. Also, when there are large amounts of nondischargeable debts, such as student loans, tax debts or parking tickets, bankruptcy is oftentimes not the best solution. Even when the CBAP is unable to help clients file for bankruptcy, the agency provides debt counseling and financial advice in an effort to help each individual.

The CBAP celebrated its 20th anniversary of operations in 2012. Through the efforts and support of CBAP's board of directors, the organization has experienced success throughout the years. The CBAP aims to increase awareness concerning different approaches to debt relief and offers free extensive educational outreach seminars to Philadelphia legal and social services agencies. If you are interested in volunteering or want more information, contact Mary Anne Lucey, executive director, at 215-523-9511. 

Amanda Davis is a 2L at Drexel University's Earle Mack School of Law. Davis worked with the CBAP this summer as a legal intern.