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California Public Benefits: The Basics for Nonprofit and Pro Bono Advocacy 2018


Speaker(s): Alex Prieto, Antionette Dozier, Barbara Texidor, Cori Racela, Cynthia L. Chagolla, Jessica Redditt, Joanna Parnes, Lisa M. Newstrom, Stephanie Haffner, Steven Weiss
Recorded on: Mar. 22, 2018
PLI Program #: 221572

Cynthia L. Chagolla is a staff attorney at Bay Area Legal Aid. She works as a part of the Economic Justice Project representing low-income clients on issues relating to CalWORKs and other benefits. Previously, she worked at California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc., on a wide range of issues including housing, education, and public benefits. She is a dedicated runner and training for her next big race.


Jessica Redditt is a Staff Attorney and Project Coordinator of the Alameda County SSI/SSDI Advocacy project at Bay Area Legal Aid. Since March 2014, Jessica has been providing direct legal services and public benefits advocacy to low-income clients with mental and physical health disabilities. Prior to joining BayLegal, Jessica engaged in community-based advocacy at the Oakland City Attorney's Office, provided direct representation to parents and children in dependency proceedings, and represented plaintiffs in civil litigation. She obtained her law degree from University of California Berkeley School of Law and her B.A. from Georgetown University.


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.


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.


Alex Prieto is a Senior Litigator at the Western Center on Law & Poverty, where he focuses on housing, public benefits, and economic justice issues. Before joining Western Center, Alex was a staff attorney at Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County for six years, where he defended the rights of low-income clients in landlord-tenant, employment, environmental justice, and public benefits cases. Previously, Alex was a clerk for the Hon. Margaret M. Morrow in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California and the Hon. Susan Kenny of the Federal Court of Australia in Melbourne. Alex has a J.D. from University of California, Berkeley School of Law, where he was Articles Editor for the California Law Review, and a B.A. in comparative literature from New York University. In his spare time, Alex enjoys hiking and backpacking, especially in the Sierra Nevada mountains.


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.


Barbara Texidor joined Bay Area Legal Aid in 2008. She became managing attorney for 16 attorneys in the Health Consumer Center and Legal Advice Line in May, 2018. At Bay Area Legal Aid, she first served as a Legal Advice Line Attorney, providing advice and counsel in family law for survivors of interpersonal violence, social safety-net benefits, consumer law, and housing law, and led a brief service clinic at the Homeless Prenatal Project. In 2012, she began representing low-income disabled individuals with mental and/or physical disabilities in their applications and appeals for Veteran’s benefits and Social Security Disability Benefits (SSI & SSDI). In 2013, she became a founding partner in developing and building the Health Consumer Center at Bay Area Legal Aid, where she represented consumers with health service and coverage denials in hearings before Administrative Law Judges, filed grievances and appeals with health plans and the Department of Managed Health Care, and negotiated with providers and county representatives. In 2014, she became a Project Coordinator for the Health Consumer Center, tasked with elevating systemic issues to county and state partners, overseeing health policy advocacy for the firm, supervising 7 staff attorneys, grant reporting, and providing training and educational outreach to attorneys at Bay Area Legal Aid and the community regarding healthcare access issues. She holds a juris doctor from U.C. Hastings College of the Law and is fluent in Spanish.


Cori Racela is a Senior Attorney on Western Center’s Health Team. Before Western Center, she served as an attorney with both National Health Law Project and Neighborhood Legal Services. At Western Center, she works on securing quality, affordable healthcare for low-income Californians through policy advocacy and litigation, with a particular focus on Medi-Cal eligibility and due process rights. Cori received a J.D. from American University’s Washington College of Law and her B.A. from Harvard University.