Legal Aid Society

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.

Our Impact

Ms. G, a 47 year old domestic violence survivor, came to us 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.

Benefits Advocacy

We are a resource for Social Security benefits advocacy. We educate the coalition of providers that comprise the Housing and Health Consortium, Inc., a “collaborative network of health care, housing, homeless and social services organizations, and government partners.” 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.

Partnerships

The Legal Aid Society collaborates with legal services providers, community-based service organizations, elected officials and medical providers to amplify the voices of the client community through resource- sharing and education. With a grant from the New York Bar Foundation for our Maximizing Access to Benefits for Low-Income New Yorkers Project, we have created Know Your Rights materials and presentations for distribution to the client community and the organizations that serve them. In addition, together with Columbia Law School’s Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic and the Empire Justice Center, Legal Aid created the fairhearinghelpny.org website, a resource for unrepresented applicants and recipients of cash assistance who seek to appeal unfavorable decisions in their cases.

The Legal Aid Society, in partnership with the Federal Protestant Welfare Agencies and the Empire Justice Center, created the Cash Assistance Reform Network, a statewide coalition of legal services, advocacy and community-based organizations with the aim of strengthening cash assistance programs in New York State and improving the lives of its recipients.  Legal Aid also participates in the Governor’s State Child Poverty Reduction Advisory Council (CPRAC) to develop recommendations on how New York State can reduce child poverty where we advocate for changes in benefits policies that will impact child poverty including grant increases and more expansive eligibility criteria for the receipt of benefits.  This work with coalition partners is advancing systemic change across the State and creating powerful opportunities for New Yorkers who rely on these critical benefits.