Rising costs continue to take their toll on DC residents with low incomes. Recent reports show that one-quarter of DC renters spend more than half their income on rent, and two-thirds of all non-white households with children don’t know the source of their next meal. All too often, the government programs meant to help create insurmountable barriers for those who need them the most. At Legal Aid DC, we’ve received twice as many requests for help with SNAP benefits (food stamps) than in 2022, and a 50% increase in requests for help with Social Security and Disability benefits. Overall, we have assisted more than 800 people with accessing or maintaining essential benefits such as food stamps, unemployment insurance, healthcare, and cash assistance over the last year.

Restoring SNAP and Disability Benefits

A DC native, Leta Bennafield is the sole provider for her elderly mother and young children. She relies on SNAP and Interim Disability Assistance benefits to help put food on the table and take care of her medical bills. Ms. Bennafield is working towards getting a degree in engineering to secure a brighter future for herself and her children. But she needs her current benefits to keep her family afloat and afford her prescriptions right now – otherwise she could end up back in a hospital bed. However, because of clerical issues at the DC Department of Human Services (DHS), Ms. Bennafield stopped receiving assistance in November 2022. After two months of following up in person without any kind of resolution or acknowledgement from DHS and with bills piling up, Ms. Bennafield saw a Legal Aid flyer and gave us a call. 

Nicole Dooley, a Supervising Attorney in the Public Benefits Unit, stepped in and started pushing DHS to reinstate the benefits to which Ms. Bennafield was legally entitled. With a lawyer on her side, she was able to get her SNAP benefits restarted, and secured the back benefits she was due.

However, Ms. Bennafield’s disability assistance was still being withheld for no good reason. Nicole escalated the pressure and requested a hearing. Finally, DHS reinstated Ms. Bennafield disability assistance and sent her the money she should have been receiving all along. After this, Ms. Bennafield attempted to add her mother to her account, as she was currently living with Ms. Bennafield and her children. DHS claimed a processing error and instead notified Ms. Bennafield that they would be terminating her benefits completely (again). Once again, Nicole stepped in and filed another hearing request. This time, Nicole represented Ms. Bennafield at the Office of Administrative Hearings and successfully fought for Ms. Bennafield’s restoration of SNAP benefits, added her mother to the account, and secured past due benefits. 

“Everyone who tells me a problem and they want advice to work through a court system, call Legal Aid," Ms. Bennafield said. "I believe Nicole is an angel sent to me by God...I’m blessed that [Legal Aid] was able to help me. I’m very grateful.”

Ms. Bennafield and Nicole
Ms. Bennafield (l) with her Legal Aid attorney, Nicole Dooley (r).


Accessing Unemployment Compensation Benefits

Ms. Shapiro


In December 2022, Alison Shapiro came to Legal Aid after several attempts to obtain DC Unemployment Compensation benefits. Ms. Shapiro lost her job in October, and in those two months, wrote numerous emails to the DC Department of Employment Services (DOES), repeatedly tried to file claim forms online, and went to DOES in-person. However, she still had not received the benefits to which she was legally entitled. While she was looking for new work, Ms. Shapiro needed that assistance to keep a roof over her head and food on the table.  

After spending several hours trying to obtain benefits that should have been made easily available to her, Ms. Shapiro hit a wall. She called Legal Aid, and Volunteer Staff Attorney Kathy Milton escalated the matter to the supervisors at DOES. Finally taking notice, the agency issued most of the unemployment benefits Ms. Shapiro was owed. 

But Kathy wasn’t satisfied. DOES was refusing to pay Ms. Shapiro all the back benefits she was seeking and even claimed she was not entitled to them. Kathy argued successfully that the agency’s rationale was legally incorrect. Thanks to Kathy’s efforts, DOES paid Ms. Shapiro the remaining money at the end of January 2023, and she was able to continue her job search without the threat of eviction or debt hanging over her head.

Ms. Shapiro
"Kathy was so responsive...she really made me feel like I had someone in my corner. Don’t hesitate to reach out to Legal Aid, they can be there for you when it feels hopeless."
Alison Shapiro

Legal Aid's Impact

Organizational Information & Acknowledgments