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California Public Benefits: The Basics for Nonprofit and Pro Bono Advocacy 2019


Speaker(s): Alex Prieto, Antionette Dozier, Barbara Texidor, Cora Lea Rose, Cori Racela, Cristina Peña Vázquez, Joanna Parnes, Lauren Hansen, Melissa A. Morris, Nancy McGee, Rebecca Miller, Steven Weiss
Recorded on: Mar. 21, 2019
PLI Program #: 252572

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.


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.


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.


Cora Lea Rose, Staff Attorney at Bay Area Legal Aid, is a CalWORKs client advocate in the San Francisco Regional Office. In her role as CalWORKs Client Advocate, she works with CalWORKs and CalFresh recipients and their families to improve access to safety net cash aid, nutritional assistance, and supportive services, and to lift client-identified barriers to employment and training. Prior to joining BayLegal, Cora was senior staff attorney at Eviction Defense Collaborative and a fellow at the San Francisco offices of Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She obtained her J.D. from U.C. Berkeley, School of Law and undergraduate degree from Westmont College.


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.


Cristina joined BayLegal in 2015 as a staff attorney in the Economic Justice and Health Access unit. She currently serves as Supervising Attorney in BayLegal's San Jose office and primarily handles public benefits matters involving CalWORKs, CalFresh, General Assistance, and Social Security disability appeals and hearings. Prior to joining BayLegal, Cristina served as Assistant General Counsel for California's Agricultural Labor Relations Board which is a state agency charged with protecting farm worker's organizational rights.

Cristina graduated from UC Berkeley with a B.A. in Comparative Literature and Spanish and then went on to get her J.D. from USC Gould School of Law in 2011.


Melissa A. Morris is a Staff Attorney with the Public Interest Law Project, a statewide support center for California legal aid organizations. Melissa’s work at PILP includes litigation in state and federal court on behalf of low-income individuals and families regarding access to California public benefits programs, affordable housing, fair housing, and the rights of people experiencing homelessness; as well as legislative and administrative advocacy regarding housing and public benefits issues. Melissa also regularly provides training and technical assistance to legal aid attorneys and other advocates on topics including disability rights, California public benefits programs, eviction defense, and affordable housing policy. Much of her work focuses on ensuring that housing and government programs are accessible to people with disabilities.

Prior to joining PILP in 2018, Melissa worked for 12 years at the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, where her practice included direct client representation, impact litigation, and policy advocacy regarding housing, public benefits, voting rights, consumer issues, and the rights of people with disabilities in institutional settings. She began her legal career in 2004 as a Borchard Foundation Center on Law & Aging Fellow at Legal Aid of Marin, where she represented low-income and senior residents of Marin County in housing, domestic violence, elder abuse, and consumer matters.


Nancy McGee is a Staff Attorney and Project Coordinator at the Alameda County Regional Office of Bay Area Legal Aid in Oakland, California. Nancy 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, Nancy worked at the Alameda County Homeless Action Center. She holds a law degree from the Golden Gate University and received her B.A. and M.A. from the Northern Illinois University.


Rebecca Miller is a Senior Litigator at the Western Center on Law & Poverty, where she advocates for low-income Californians on issues related to public benefits and court fines and fees. She previously worked at Bay Area Legal Aid as a consumer rights attorney, after starting her legal career in Georgia where she worked as a staff attorney at the Atlanta Legal Aid Society and as an employment lawyer in the Farmworker Rights Division of the Georgia Legal Services Program. Rebecca clerked for both Chief Judge Consuelo Marshall in the Central District of California and Judge Beverly Martin in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. She is a 2003 graduate of New York University School of Law with her undergraduate degree from Columbia.