Projects, Units & Initiatives
Government Benefits and Disability Advocacy Project
The Government Benefits and Disability Advocacy Project (DAP) helps the economically neediest New Yorkers obtain and maintain the government benefits to which they are entitled, such as public assistance, disability benefits administered by the Social Security Administration, and Medicaid. Together with our Law Reform and Health Law units, Government Benefits/DAP addresses income inequality through advocacy and class action litigation, and ensures that the agencies administering public benefits programs do so with the fairness and due process required by law.
During the COVID-19 crisis and despite operating entirely remotely, The Legal Aid Society’s disability and general benefits practice has remained especially committed to obtaining and maintaining federal disability, cash assistance, SNAP and Medicaid benefits for our clients that are so crucial to meeting their basic needs. The Legal Aid Society has been at the forefront of advocating to the federal, state and city agencies that administer these benefits programs making recommendations about practices and policies they should adopt to address the needs of our clients during the pandemic and beyond. We have been partnering with legal services organizations, community-based organizations, and the faith community in doing so. At SSA’s request, The Legal Aid Society was on the panel of SSA’s National Disability Forum on the topic COVID-19 and SSA Programs: Serving our Beneficiaries through Unprecedented Times where we had the chance to share with a national audience of advocates and agency staff our recommendations for improvements to SSA’s operations.
Most importantly, while The Legal Aid Society and the agencies are operating remotely, we continue to represent our clients before the Social Security Administration, the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, and the New York City Department of Social Services at all phases of a case, from applications through appeals. The public can reach us via our Access to Benefits (A2B) Helpline 888-663-6880 which has expanded its hours to Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Ms. G is a 47 year old domestic violence survivor who came to us in October of 2018, seeking representation to obtain Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits as she was unable to work due to her psychiatric conditions. She is currently living in a DHS shelter and prior to that was in a small private DV shelter in Staten Island which recently closed.
Ms. G. was referred to us by the New York City Department of Social Services under a grant we receive to assist cash assistance recipients who need home visits to apply for federal disability benefits. As with many other people in her situation, regular medical care was not an option. Nevertheless, the paralegal case handler assigned to her case, Sarah, worked diligently to get all available records to corroborate Ms. G’s conditions of major depressive and bipolar disorders. Sarah zealously advocated for Ms. G both by writing to the agency’s disability analyst detailing how these records supported Ms. G’s disability claim and by accompanying Ms. G to the consultative medical exams ordered by Social Security. With our involvement, Ms. G stayed engaged in the application process, and through their teamwork, Sarah and Ms. G were able to secure her SSI benefits, effectively doubling her monthly income from what she was receiving in cash public assistance.
That Ms. G. was deemed to need a home visit by NYC DSS, is an example of a reasonable accommodation guaranteed by a settlement in Lovely H. v. Eggleston, a class action lawsuit brought by the Legal Aid Society against HRA to enforce the rights of disabled individuals to get the reasonable accommodations they need to access HRA benefits, programs and services. In 2014, 90 clients per year received reasonable accommodations from HRA. Today, because of the Lovely H. settlement more than 51,000 clients have one or more reasonable accommodations.
The Legal Aid Society collaborates with legal services providers, community-based service organizations, and medical providers to enhance our service to the client community. Through our Robin Hood Foundation grant, we provide a vital legal services component at community-based organizations throughout the city at which the client community can access our assistance with obtaining and maintaining their federal disability benefits. We are also a resource on Social Security benefits issues for the staff and patients of Mount Sinai’s Resource Entitlement and Advocacy Program (REAP). We mentor associates from our partnering law firms in providing pro bono representation for our clients in federal court appeals of disability benefits denials. With our NYC legal services partners, we train advocates and attorneys to represent clients in matters before the Social Security Administration and the Department of Social Services, and have created a forum within which to advocate with the NYC Department of Social Services to identify areas of best practice and increase the number of individuals served by the program.