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California Public Benefits: The Basics for Non-Profit and Pro Bono Advocacy 2016


Speaker(s): Abby Herzberg, Amy G. Chen, Antionette Dozier, Joanna Parnes, Lauren Hansen, Lisa M. Newstrom, Maya H. Watts, Patti Prunhuber, Robert P. Capistrano, Shirley E. Sanematsu, Stephanie Haffner, Steven Weiss
Recorded on: Apr. 1, 2016
PLI Program #: 150561

Bob Capistrano is an attorney with the Contra Costa County office of Bay Area Legal Aid, and was for many years the program's Director of Advocacy and Training.  Bob has been in legal services since graduating from Hastings College of the Law, and focuses on public benefits, health access, and public and subsidized housing.  Bob authored the sections of the Federal Practice Manual on litigating using 42 USC § 1983 and has also been on the faculty of the Affirmative Litigation Training sponsored by the National Center on Poverty Law.


Patti Prunhuber is Senior Policy Attorney at the Child Care Law Center (CCLC).  CCLC’s mission is to promote policies and funding that ensure every California child has good, stable and affordable child care.  Before coming to CCLC, she worked at the Public Interest Law Project, specializing in public benefit impact litigation. Prior California litigation includes: Parent Voices Oakland v. Calif. Dept. of Education, halting the termination of CalWORKs Stage 3 subsidized child care for 56,000 low-income children; Hartley v. Calif. Dept. of Social Services, ending the collection of welfare debts incurred by parents from their children; multiple writ actions challenging counties’ unlawful General Assistance policies; and Jones v. Calif. Dept. of Social Services, challenging the failure of CDSS and county welfare departments to provide timely welfare-to-work services to time-limited CalWORKs recipients.

Ms. Prunhuber has worked in legal services for 25 years, most recently as Litigation Director at Community Legal Aid. She has extensive experience litigating individual and class actions in state and federal court in the areas of public benefits, health care, fair housing and workers’ rights. She has taught courses on Welfare Law and Social Policy, Family Law, and Labor and Employment Law.


Stephanie Haffner, a graduate of UC Berkeley Law School, began her legal career at California Rural Legal Assistance where she chaired its statewide public benefits task force and served as lead counsel in Price v. City of Stockton, which secured replacement housing and relocation benefits for hundreds of Stockton downtown hotel residents.  Stephanie taught Administrative Law and other subjects at Whittier Law School.  From 2006 to 2011, Stephanie supervised the Housing/Consumer Advocacy Group of Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County.  She joined Western Center in 2011 as a Senior Litigator, and became a Director of Litigation for Western Center in 2017.  Her practice includes administrative law, anti-discrimination law, food and cash benefits, and homelessness issues, among others. As of April 30, 2018, she will be joining Legal Aid of Marin as their Executive Director.


Joanna Parnes is a Supervising Attorney at the Alameda County Regional Office of Bay Area Legal Aid in Oakland, California. Joanna currently serves low-income clients with mental and physical health disabilities through direct legal services and systemic advocacy in the area of public benefits, with a focus on SSI and Social Security disability benefits. Prior to joining Bay Legal, Joanna worked at the East Bay Community Law Center and as a researcher at the Urban Institute in Washington, DC, evaluating programs and policies that impact poor families. She holds a law degree from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law and received her B.A. from the University of Michigan.


Steven Weiss is a Regional Managing Attorney in the Alameda County office of Bay Area Legal Aid, and their Social Security & SSI Advocacy Regional Coordinator, specializing in administrative advocacy with the Social Security Administration. Prior to working at Bay Area Legal Aid, Mr. Weiss was a staff attorney at the Homeless Action Center in Berkeley, California. He is a 1998 graduate of the Golden Gate University School of Law, and received his B.A. from the State University of New York at Buffalo in Urban Public Policy Administration.


Abby Herzberg is a Staff Attorney at the Alameda County Regional Office of Bay Area Legal Aid in Oakland, California.  Abby currently serves low-income clients with mental health disabilities through direct legal services and systemic advocacy in the area of public benefits, with a focus on SSI and Social Security disability benefits.  Prior to joining Bay Legal, Abby clerked for a magistrate judge in the United States District Court, Central District of California, where she reviewed appeals of SSI and Social Security denials.  She holds a law degree from New York University School of Law and received her B.A. from Tufts University.


Lisa Newstrom joined Bay Area Legal Aid in 2009 as a Public Benefits Attorney and has served as Managing Attorney of the Santa Clara County Regional Office since 2013. In her practice, Lisa represents clients in matters regarding safety-net programs such as SSI, CalWORKS, CalFresh, Medi-Cal and General Assistance. Lisa serves on several regional task forces including the South Bay Coalition to End Human Trafficking and the Santa Clara County Public Benefits Task Force. She has trained hundreds of attorneys, advocates, and social services providers on legal issues in public benefits, particularly for immigrants, youths with disabilities, and survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking. Prior to her legal career, Lisa worked with low-income immigrant families as a bilingual/ESL special education teacher.


Maya Hazarika Watts is a Staff Attorney at the Alameda County Regional Office of Bay Area Legal Aid in Oakland, California.  Maya currently serves low-income clients through direct legal services and systemic advocacy in the area of public benefits.  Her work focuses specifically on CalWORKs, CalFresh, and general assistance.  Maya has also worked in the family law unit at Bay Legal, providing assistance to domestic violence survivors.  Prior to joining Bay Area Legal Aid, Maya was a staff attorney at Family Violence Law Center.  Maya earned her J.D. from the University of California, Hastings in 2006.


Shirley Sanematsu is a Senior Attorney at Western Center focusing on access to health care services. Before joining Western Center, Shirley was a staff attorney at Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, and she has private practice experience in complex civil litigation and has represented and counseled health care providers on Medicaid and Medicare billing and corporate compliance issues. Shirley received her A.B. from Occidental College and her J.D. from UCLA’s School of Law, where she was a member of the Public Interest Law and Policy Program, and the Law Review.


After joining PILP as a fellow in 2012, Lauren is now a staff attorney in the public benefit unit. Prior to joining PILP, Lauren worked at Legal Services of Northern California for in its Ukiah office doing housing, public benefits, and health law. Lauren graduated from UCLA and went to law school at the University of Iowa College of Law.

At PILP, Lauren has worked on a variety of cases on issues including redevelopment, housing element, General Assistance/Relief, CalFresh (SNAP), and CalWORKs (TANF). She started and currently leads PILP’s Rural General Assistance Project (Rural GAP), a project dedicated to increasing access to General Assistance/Relief benefits in rural areas. She is admitted to practice in California and Washington D.C.


Amy Chen is a senior staff attorney in NHeLP’s Los Angeles office, where she conducts research, advocacy, and education on reproductive health access and services at the state and national levels. Her California specific work includes insurance coverage for contraception and pregnancy, expanding access to family planning and abortion services, and opposing religious restrictions on reproductive health care. Her national work includes leading NHeLP’s efforts to address systemic barriers to comprehensive pregnancy care. She is currently working on a project exploring state and federal options for Medicaid coverage of doula care. Before joining NHeLP, Amy worked at Bay Area Legal Aid in Oakland, California for eight years, where she provided direct legal services to individuals and families across the San Francisco Bay Area, and advocated on a wide range of issues including health care reform, Medi-Cal, Covered California, and private health insurance.


Antionette Dozier, Senior Attorney at Western Center on Law & Poverty, focuses on public benefits and other economic disparity issues facing poor Californians. At Western Center, Antionette litigates, provides technical support to legal services attorneys, and provides technical assistance on policy and legislation that is aimed removing economic barriers to opportunity for the poor. She also facilitates state and community discussions to ensure that public benefits recipients receive a fair opportunity to achieve economic security. At Western Center, she has co-counseled on class action cases involving the right to mental health services and public benefits, and impact cases regarding the CalWORKs, CalFresh and General Assistance/General Relief programs. Before Western Center, Antionette completed a term as a clerk for the United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit in the chambers of the Honorable R. Guy Cole, Jr. Antionette also was a litigation associate at Jones Day after graduating from UCLA School of Law.