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Representing the Pro Bono Client: New York Public Assistance and Food Stamp Advocacy 2018


Speaker(s): David A. Super, Denise Acron, Don Friedman, Lester Helfman, Maryanne Joyce, Saima Akhtar, Susan E. Welber, Tanya E.M. Wong
Recorded on: Jul. 10, 2018
PLI Program #: 222038

David A. Super is a Professor at Georgetown University Law Center.  He has trained advocates in more than forty states on effective representation of low-income people seeking food assistance.  Over the past few years, as USDA has increased pressure on states to pursue intentional program violations (IPVs) in the Supplemental Food Assistance Program (SNAP), he has conducted over a dozen trainings specifically focused on IPVs and has testified as an expert witness in individual SNAP IPV cases.  His writing on SNAP IPVs has appeared in Clearinghouse Review, The Champion, and elsewhere.

Prior to joining the faculty at Georgetown, he served for eleven years as the general counsel for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, specializing in food stamps, immigration, and other public benefit programs for low-income people.  Before his time at the Center, he was legal director for the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) and was a staff attorney at the National Health Law Program (NHeLP) and at Community Legal Services in Philadelphia, where he worked on food stamp, Medicaid, welfare, and disability cases. 


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.


Susan Welber is a staff attorney in Civil Practice Law Reform Unit of The Legal Aid Society in New York City, where she focuses on impact litigation, administrative and legislative advocacy on public benefits issues, including immigrant access to public benefits. In the area of immigrant access to government benefits, Susan was a lead counsel on the monitoring and enforcement phase of M.K.B. v. Eggleston, a class action on behalf of immigrants in New York City who were erroneously denied benefits based on their immigration status and Pelegrin v. Doar, a case challenging New York City's policy of holding sponsors liable for the value of benefits received by immigrant recipients.  Susan earned her B.A. from Columbia College and her J.D. from Fordham University School of Law.  She is currently serving as Chair of the New York City Bar Association Social Welfare Law Committee.


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.


Tanya E.M. Wong, Esq., is the Director of Government Benefits at the Legal Support Unit at Legal Services, NYC. Building on her background in human rights advocacy, Ms. Wong began practicing in this area in 1996, as a Staff Attorney at Harlem Legal Services, Inc., as New York City began implementation of the new immigration and work rules under welfare reform. Ms. Wong participates in many welfare trainings for Legal Services and various CBO’s throughout NYC. She served on the Advisory Board of the Empowerment Project at Urban Justice Center from 1997-2003 and has served on the Board of Directors of Project FAIR. Ms. Wong is a graduate of Harvard University and Northeastern University School of Law.


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.


Don Friedman is the managing attorney of the Empire Justice Center’s Long Island office, located within the Public Advocacy Center at Touro Law School.  Before coming to Empire Justice, Don was a staff attorney at Legal Services offices in Queens and Manhattan, the public benefits coordinating attorney at Legal Services for New York City, and a public benefits policy analyst at the Community Food Resource Center and then the Community Service Society, both in New York City.  He is a co-founder of Project FAIR, serves on the board of Hunger Solutions New York and the Public Utility Law Project, and is a member of the Suffolk County Welfare to Work Commission.  He wrote An Advocate’s Guide to the Welfare Work Rules, which was published in 1998, then revised and updated in February 2008.  Don is a graduate of the University of Michigan and Harvard Law School, and plays guitar and sings in two folk/old-time trios.


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.