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Representing the Pro Bono Client: New York Public Assistance and Food Stamp Eligibility 2017: Special Populations


Speaker(s): Belkys Garcia, Denise Acron, Jack Newton, Jose I. Abrigo, Lester Helfman, Maryanne Joyce, Rachel Bash, Saima Akhtar
Recorded on: Aug. 3, 2017
PLI Program #: 180012

Jose Abrigo is the staff attorney of the LGBTQ/HIV Advocacy Project at Queens Legal Services. Before becoming a lawyer Jose worked in classical archaeology and specialized in Ancient Greek statuary. During law school he devoted most of his work to public benefits advocacy, poverty law and representing clients at welfare fair hearings. He has also worked with the Sylvia Rivera Law Project and clerked for the New York State Supreme Court, Commercial Division.

Before heading the LGBTQ/HIV Practice at Queens, Jose was a tenant attorney for almost three years and has practiced in almost all of the Housing Courts across New York City. As the LGBTQ/HIV Advocacy Project attorney he represents low income people in Queens in administrative hearings, Civil, Supreme and Federal Court on issues ranging from discrimination, housing, public benefits, immigration, social security, and name change/identity documents. He engages in extensive community organizing with the clients he serves, and policy and legislative advocacy. Jose also litigates civil rights impact litigation in Queens and citywide in collaboration with the other LSNYC borough offices. He received a dual B.A. from UC Berkeley and his J.D. from CUNY School of Law.


Maryanne Joyce has a solo law practice focused on assisting low-income clients with public benefits issues. She also works with Part of the Solution in the Bronx, assisting with POTS’ weekly legal clinic. Before starting her own firm, Maryanne worked for many years as a staff attorney at Bronx Legal Services where she focused on public assistance, food stamps/SNAP, and Medicaid issues, and represented clients at administrative hearings and in New York State Supreme Court. Maryanne has trained on public benefits issues including basic welfare budgeting, welfare fair hearings, the treatment of teens in the welfare system, welfare fraud/administrative disqualification hearings, and Article 78s in public benefits practice. Maryanne received her undergraduate degree from Yale University, and has an M.A. in Counseling from N.Y.U. She received her J.D. from Columbia Law School.


Saima Akhtar is a Senior Staff Attorney with the Public Benefits Unit in the Albany office of Empire Justice Center.  She works on issues that include Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (food stamps), cash public assistance, emergency assistance, and subsidized childcare.  Saima represents low income clients both in court and in administrative proceedings, and has served as counsel to the class in a number of class action cases in New York’s State and Federal Courts including Brooks v. Roberts, Richard C. v. Proud, and Karamalla v. Divine.  She has also provided continuing legal education sessions for the New York State Bar Association, The Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, Practicing Law Institute, and the National Legal Aid and Defenders Association on topics such as SNAP basics, emergency assistance benefits in New York, and basic lawyering skills for new attorneys.  Saima currently serves on the board of directors for New York’s Early Care and Learning Council, where she is the Treasurer and Chair of the finance committee. She is a graduate of Albany Law School of Union University and holds a Masters degree in Public Policy from the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy from the University at Albany. She is a recipient of Albany Law School’s Edward M. Cameron Memorial Prize for her contributions to the area of public interest law and was a 2006 Fellow of the Center for Women in Government and Civil Society at the University at Albany.


Belkys Garcia has been a staff attorney with The Legal Aid Society since 2007 helping low-income New Yorkers access various government benefits. She is currently in the Civil Practice Law Reform Unit focusing on access to health care through impact litigation and administrative and legislative advocacy. She is a steering committee member of Medicaid Matters New York.


Denise Acron is Assistant Corporation Counsel in the Tort Division of the New York City Law Department. Prior to joining the Law Department, she was a Senior Staff Attorney at Manhattan Legal Services where she practiced in the Government Benefits Unit. In that role, she represented low income clients and litigated federal, state, and city cases concerning government benefits. Manhattan Legal Services, which is part of Legal Services NYC, the largest civil legal services provider in the country, fights poverty and seeks racial, social, and economic justice for low-income New Yorkers. Raised in San Diego, California, Denise graduated from Columbia University with honors and Wake Forest University School of Law.


Jack Newton is the Director of Public Benefits & LGBTQ Advocacy at Bronx Legal Services. Jack co-authored the chapter entitled, "Public Assistance and Housing: Navigating Difficult Benefits Systems," in the Lawyer's Manual on Domestic Violence: Representing the Victim (6th ed., 2014). Prior to joining LSNYC, Jack worked at The Legal Aid Society in family, immigration, benefits, and housing matters. He was a member of the FEPS litigation team and counsel in Pena v. Doar and Velez v. Roberts. Jack earned his law degree from the University of Texas and a Master's of Social Work from Columbia University.


Lester Helfman is a Senior Staff Attorney in the Brooklyn Neighborhood Office of The Legal Aid’s Society’s Civil Practice where he represents clients in administrative proceedings, Article 78 proceedings and affirmative litigation in both state and federal courts, including state and federal class actions.  During his forty year career I legal services, Les has also specialized in housing law, health law and the rights of the elderly, and represented parolees in parole revocation proceedings and writs of habeas corpus.  From 1993–1997, he was Director of Litigation at Queens Legal Services Corp.  Les trains extensively on public benefits issues and administrative and judicial appeal rights.  He co-chairs a work group composed of legal service advocates and NYC Human Resources Administration program and legal staff, working to ensure the integrity of the Fair Hearing system and to establish alternative resolution modalities.  Les is a graduate of Herbert H. Lehman College and New York Law School.


Rachel Bash is a senior staff attorney at Brooklyn Legal Services in the LGBTQ/HIV Advocacy Project, where she provides legal representation for HIV positive and LGBTQ low-income residents of Brooklyn.  She is also responsible for staffing the weekly Public Assistance Clinic at BLS.   She came to BLS in January 2008 after serving as a law clerk for the Honorable Nancy Sivilli in Essex County Superior Court, Criminal Division, and worked as a staff attorney in BLS’s Low Income Tax Clinic until the beginning of 2012. She earned her B.A. from the University of Arizona in 2002, and graduated in 2006 from the University of Arizona College of Law.