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New York Public Assistance and Food Stamp Advocacy 2020: Representing the Pro Bono Client


Speaker(s): Abby Biberman, Denise Acron, Julie Morse, Marie T. Vaz, Saima Akhtar, Susan E. Welber, Tanya E.M. Wong
Recorded on: Jun. 18, 2020
PLI Program #: 278227

Abby is a senior supervising attorney in the Public Benefits Unit, overseeing the work of the Public Assistance and SNAP Practice. From 2016-2019, she taught the Economic Justice Clinic at Brooklyn Law School. She has practiced in the areas of housing, public health insurance, and elder law. 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.


Julie Morse has been a Staff Attorney at Legal Services of Central New York since September 2005.  From 2005 to 2007, she was a Skadden Fellow at LSCNY concentrating on Olmstead issues.  From 2007 to 2014, Ms. Morse represented people with disabilities in education and home care cases. Since 2014, she has represented people in public benefits cases.  Ms. Morse is a 2005 graduate of Syracuse University College of Law and the School of Education where she received a joint degree in law and disability studies.  


Marie is a Senior 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. She is currently a lead counsel on two cases challenging the new “public charge” rules issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of State. 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.


Denise Acron is currently Acting Director of the Government Benefits Unit, at Legal Services NYC-Manhattan, the largest civil legal services provider in the country, which  fights poverty and seeks racial, social, and economic justice for low-income New Yorkers.  In her role, she supervises a team that litigates and advocates on behalf of clients in federal, state, and city agencies concerning government benefits cases. Denise graduated from Columbia University with honors and Wake Forest University School of Law.


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 Project Director at Brooklyn 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 was the Director of the Justice Learning Center, LSNYC’s Continuing Legal Education training program, from 2013- 2014 and served as the Acting Project Director of Staten Island Legal Services from 2018 – 2019.  Ms. Wong is a graduate of Harvard University and Northeastern University School of Law.