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Representing the Pro Bono Client: New York Public Assistance and Food Stamp Eligibility 2019


Speaker(s): Abby Biberman, Don Friedman, Marie T. Vaz, Saima Akhtar, Susan E. Welber, Tanya E.M. Wong
Recorded on: Jul. 9, 2019
PLI Program #: 251759

Abby is the supervising attorney of the Public Assistance and SNAP Practice, in the Public Benefits Unit. Abby also co-teaches the Economic Justice Clinic at Brooklyn Law School. Previously she was a staff attorney practicing in the areas of housing, public health insurance, and elder law. Abby joined NYLAG as an Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow with a fellowship focused on immigrant access to government benefits. Prior to joining NYLAG, Abby had the same fellowship at LawHelp NY at the City Bar Justice Center. Abby is a graduate of Wesleyan University and Temple University Beasley School of Law, where she was a Rubin-Presser Public Interest Scholar and Executive Articles and Symposium Editor of the Temple Political and Civil Rights Law Review. During law school, she interned at the New York Civil Liberties Union, Brooklyn Family Defense Project (now Brooklyn Defender Services), and the Juvenile Law Center.


Marie is a Staff Attorney in the Public Benefits and LGBTQ Advocacy Units at Bronx Legal Services.  The Public Benefits practice is focused on providing legal services to vulnerable low-income Bronx residents who need assistance obtaining, retaining, or increasing vital government benefits such as cash welfare, rental subsidies, WIC, and SNAP as well as public health insurance such as Medicare and Medicaid and home care services.  The LGBTQ Advocacy practice provides comprehensive legal services to low-income LGBTQ people on a multitude of legal issues, such as immigration, divorce and custody, and name changes. Previously she was a Staff Attorney at NYLAG specializing in Medicaid and Medicare eligibility and services, emphasizing the needs of low-income people seeking long term care.  She has also represented and coordinated services for children with severe medical conditions and/or developmental disabilities as a care manager at SKIP of New York.  Marie graduated from Fordham Law School in 2011 as a Stein Scholar in Public Interest Law and Ethics and from Emory University in 2004 with a B.A. in Sociology.


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, welfare work rules and disability discrimination. Susan earned her B.A. from Columbia College and her J.D. from Fordham University School of Law, where she has taught legal research and writing and poverty law as an adjunct.


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 Acting Project Director at Staten Island Legal Services.  She is an accomplished Public Interest attorney with over 20 years of direct client representation, litigation and policy advocacy experience in the area of Government Benefits, specializing in welfare rights and other anti-poverty/anti-hunger programs, such as SNAP and WIC.  Ms. Wong has been the Director of Legal Services NYC’s Government Benefits practice since 2012 to present and has co-chaired Practising Law Institute’s annual Public Benefits program from 2013 to present.  She participates in several work groups with the NYC Human Resources Administration and chairs Legal Services NYC’s Welfare Law Taskforce. Ms. Wong is a graduate of Harvard University and Northeastern 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.