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Representing the Pro Bono Client: New York Public Assistance and Food Stamp Advocacy 2015


Speaker(s): Belkys Garcia, Carol Santangelo, Nada A. Geha, Saima Akhtar, Susan Bahn
Recorded on: Jul. 20, 2015
PLI Program #: 57344

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.


Carol Santangelo is a Supervising Attorney at The Legal Aid Society, overseeing a city-wide initiative to assist public assistance beneficiaries in accessing federal disability benefits. Before that, Carol was a Staff Attorney in The Legal Aid Society’s Health Law Unit, during which time she was is a steering committee member of the Coalition to Protect the Rights of New York's Dually Eligible, an active member of the Medicaid Matters New York Managed Care Workgroup and the Public Program Workgroup, and was co-chair of the New York State Health Law Taskforce. Carol is a member of  New York City Bar Association’s Mental Health Law Committee; she holds a Master’s Degree in Nursing and a Certificate in Bioethics and Medical Humanities.


Belkys Garcia has been a staff attorney with The Legal Aid Society since 2007 helping low-income New Yorkers access various government benefits. She is currently in the Civil Practice Law Reform Unit focusing on access to health care through impact litigation and administrative and legislative advocacy. She is a steering committee member of Medicaid Matters New York.


Nada Geha is a Deputy Director in the Housing Unit of Bronx-LSNYC. Prior to coming to LSNYC, Nada was a staff attorney at The Legal Aid Society where she was a member of the FEPS litigation team. She was also a staff attorney at Safe Horizon in the Domestic Violence Law Project. Nada obtained her J.D from Tulane University School of Law and her B.A. from Oberlin College.


Susan C. Bahn has been working in the civil practice of The Legal Aid Society (LAS) in New York City since 1984.   She started a career in general civil poverty law at the LAS Queens office.   Since 1987, Ms. Bahn has worked in the office that serves Brooklyn and has spent most of her time litigating, training and mentoring on the intersection of housing and public benefits law.  In addition to  working on the Jiggetts case for 16 years Ms. Bahn  has worked on many individual  housing and welfare cases and several welfare impact cases including McQueen v. Grinker (1990),  Kelly v. Kalladjian (1993),  Davila v. Hammons (1996),  Brownley v. Doar (2006), Hercules v. Doar (2010), Pena v. Doar  (2012).  Ms. Bahn is a graduate of Wellesley College and Hofstra University School of Law where she was an editor on the law review.