Leticia Flores

Leticia Flores

Leticia Flores*, a 92-year-old DC resident who has been honored for her public service and activism within DC’s Latino Community, was one of them. Through the Medicaid EPD Waiver Program, Ms. Flores receives Personal Care Aide (PCA) in home services for 16 hours a day, seven days a week. These services are essential to her health and dignity. However, she was recently reassessed by the Department of Health Care Finance (DHCF) for PCA services and her hours were reduced to 12 hours a day.

“Legal Aid served my needs on hundred percent.”

After her assessment, Ms. Flores came to Legal Aid to seek assistance with challenging this reduction in services. She was part of a wave of clients who came to Legal Aid seeking help, alerting our attorneys to how the new process was making a significant impact on our client community. With the help of Public Benefits Unit Staff Attorney Aida Fitzgerald, Ms. Flores requested a fair hearing challenging the reduction and asked to continue to receive her original allotment of services pending a hearing.

After Aida helped Ms. Flores navigate a series of legal obstacles that included reviving her case after dismissal, DHCF changed its tune and agreed to provide Ms. Flores with in home services a full 16 hours a day, seven days a week.

*Names have been changed to protect the clients’ identities.

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Costello Tobias

Costello Tobias is in his early 60s and can no longer work due to his physical health conditions. He has arthritis in both of his shoulders, high blood pressure (which has been difficult to manage with medication and frequently makes him feel agitated), pain in his knees lower back, and he suffers from symptomatic epilepsy. His seizures come without warning and sometimes make him black out.

“Go down to Legal Aid! They’re going to help you.”

Prior to the worsening of his conditions, Mr. Tobias was very active – he worked as a phlebotomist for 18 years, and played basketball or went running every day. Now when he tries to get outside and walk he can only go short distances. Sometimes even when he is lying or sitting down, his body seizes up in pain.

When Mr. Tobias applied for SSDI benefits he was denied, so he appealed the decision, requesting a Hearing by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Shortly thereafter Mr. Tobias came to Legal Aid. We referred him to Daniel Wolf and Alyssa Bonesteel of Gilbert LLP. They enthusiastically agreed to represent Mr. Tobias. At the hearing, the ALJ determined that Mr. Tobias is disabled and awarded him full benefits, thereby giving him the insurance benefits he needs and is entitled to by law.

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Alvonette Grimes

Alvonette Grimes was on the verge of losing her home when she came to Legal Aid. Years earlier Ms. Grimes suffered a debilitating car accident which left her temporarily unable to work. As happens far too frequently after a medical hardship of this type, Ms. Grimes fell behind on her mortgage payments. Upon returning to work, Ms. Grimes knew she could get back on track with her mortgage – she simply needed a plan. However, the mortgage company denied her multiple applications and appeals for a loan modification. The mortgage company was difficult to work with and insisted on detailed, virtually inexplicable, profit and loss statements in order to review her for home retention options.

“Shirley was a pitbull.”

One day, when Ms. Grimes was on the phone with the mortgage company, a process server knocked on her door and threw an envelope in her face. She had been served with a court summons for the foreclosure of her home. Ms. Grimes was overwhelmed. But she didn’t give up. That’s when Ms. Grimes found Legal Aid.

Together, Ms. Grimes and Legal Aid Consumer Unit Senior Staff Attorney Shirley Horng worked to submit yet another loan modification application. With a lawyer by her side, Ms. Grimes’s payment plan was approved. With a clear path for moving forward, Ms. Grimes successfully modified her mortgage. Today, three years after she first fell behind, Ms. Grimes is not only stably housed; she’s making long hope-for renovations to her home.

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Tye Foster

When Tye Foster* lost her job at a DC hospital in January 2017, she applied for and was granted unemployment benefits – a critical safety net program, funded by payroll taxes, which helps workers make ends meet while they look for another job. However, the hospital filed an appeal, alleging that Ms. Foster had violated the company’s parking policies, which they claimed constituted gross misconduct. Because of problems with her mail, Ms. Foster never received notice of the appeal, her court date, or the judge’s ultimate decision in the hospital’s favor.

“Knowing that I had some of the best lawyers working on my case felt so much better. I see them as superheroes.”

When she found out what happened, she immediately submitted a request for a hearing. But without a lawyer, she was unable to contest a motion filed by the hospital. So, Ms. Foster came to Legal Aid.

Public Benefits Law Unit attorneys Jennifer Mezey and Nina Wu took on her case. At a new hearing, they presented evidence that Ms. Foster’s alleged “misconduct” was due to contradicting oral and written instructions from the hospital about the parking policies, and that she never intended to violate company policy.

The judge ultimately reinstated Ms. Foster’s benefits, which helped her make ends meet until she was able to secure a new job a few months later.

*Names have been changed to protect the clients’ identities.

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Ana Mwangi

Ana Mwangi* felt trapped in the wrong life. With her newborn daughter, Eva*, swaddled on her back, her abusive ex-boyfriend held her at gunpoint and sexually assaulted her. As an immigrant from Kenya, Ms. Mwangi was scared to go to court, but she could not risk her or her daughter’s safety any longer.

When she went to the Domestic Violence Intake Center in Southeast DC, Legal Aid Family Law Unit attorney Jamie Sparano helped her secure a Civil Protection Order (CPO) which ensured that her ex-boyfriend could not threaten, contact, or assault her or Eva.

To truly be independent, though, Ms. Mwangi needed more economic security. Carolyn Rumer, a staff attorney in our Public Benefits Law Unit, stepped in. Carolyn helped Ms. Mwangi obtain emergency food stamps after the District originally denied her application, as well as health insurance and cash assistance (TANF).

She is pulling her life together, focusing on providing opportunities for Eva’s future.

“If not for Legal Aid, I could be dead.”

*Names have been changed to protect the clients’ identities.

**If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence and needs help, contact DC SAFE or call Legal Aid at (202) 628-1161 for assistance.

Get Help 24/7 from the National Sexual Violence Hotline at 1-800-656-4673**

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Linda Murph

In August 2017, Legal Aid partnered with Hogan Lovells and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice to file a class action lawsuit alleging systemic problems with the District’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps. Essentially, we asserted that thousands of DC residents had gone hungry because of the District’s mismanagement.

Linda Murph is a designated class representative in the lawsuit. Ms. Murph moved back to the District of Columbia in 2009 with ambitions of working as a professional security officer for the Smithsonian museums. She has a limited fixed income and relies on food stamps to make ends meet. In 2017, despite going in person to a government service center to renew her benefits, she stopped receiving her food stamps, without notice. She went for months without them due to the agency’s failure to process her recertification application.

“The bigger picture is bigger than me. I’m not the only one in this situation.”

Ms. Murph with attorney Kaitlin Welborn, part of the team from Hogan Lovells partnering with Legal Aid on the lawsuit.

The case continues to progress. In May 2018, US District Court Judge Christopher Cooper issued a Preliminary Injunction Order requiring the District to process food stamp recertification applications within the time periods required by law. As the Judge succinctly put it: “The harms described in these affidavits—forgoing food or other necessities— are clearly irreparable in nature.”

Judge Cooper also denied the District’s motion to dismiss, holding that Ms. Murph and her fellow plaintiffs had standing to proceed because their benefits could be improperly delayed or terminated again in the future.

Recently, Ms. Murph was hired as professional security officer at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Her full time employment has allowed her to cut back on the amount of assistance she receives.

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Pamela Dyson

Pamela Dyson has overcome many obstacles in her life. She was born with spina bifida, a birth defect of the spinal cord, which resulted in her right leg being amputated above the knee. As a result of her condition, Ms. Dyson needs to use wheelchair. Ms. Dyson relies on a modest fixed income and SNAP (aka food stamps) to pay her rent and household expenses. However in 2017, her benefits were abruptly terminated while she was in the hospital. The Department of Human Services (DHS) claimed that she had failed to submit a food stamp recertification application, though she had not received any notice. Ms. Dyson completed and submitted the recertification to DHS but never received her food stamps. DHS told her that there was no record of her submission for recertification.

“I thank God for Legal Aid.”

That’s when she began working with Legal Aid Public Benefits Unit attorney Harmony Jones. With Legal Aid on her side, DHS admitted the agency’s failure on multiple fronts. They agreed to reinstate Ms. Dyson’s food stamps and issue her retroactive benefits for the months she went without food stamps. Ms. Dyson recently earned an associate’s degree in criminal justice. Her goal is to start working as a case manager for a legal services provider to help others in her community who face similar challenges. Meet More Clients

Nicole and Tano Washington

Several years ago, Nicole Washington* applied for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for her ten-year-old son, Tano,* who had been experiencing debilitating seizures. He would become unusually aggressive before and after the seizures, and as a result he was struggling in school.

When the Social Security Administration denied Tano’s application, Ms. Washington sought help from the Legal Aid public benefits unit. Legal Aid referred Ms. Washington and Tano to Paul Thompson of Cooley. Paul was all in: he accompanied the Washingtons to medical appointments and interviewed Tano’s physicians to gather evidence of his disability. Paul also worked with Tano’s school to develop an Individualized Education Plan to address the impact of his seizures on his memory.

At the hearing, Paul demonstrated the severity of Tano’s condition. Three years after Ms. Washington first applied for benefits, the judge issued a favorable decision awarding Tano SSI benefits, including back benefits, providing life-changing support for Ms. Washington and her son.

*Names have been changed to protect the clients’ identities.

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Mariana and Antonio Garcia

Mariana Garcia’s* now three-year-old son, Antonio*, was born six weeks premature. He has developmental delays and a chronic respiratory illness that requires nearly monthly hospitalizations. Ms. Garcia, a native Spanish-speaker who was working two jobs before Antonio was born, had to cut back her hours to care for her son, even as she faced significant medical bills.

Despite Antonio’s serious medical conditions, the Social Security Administration (SSA) denied his disability benefits application. Legal Aid public benefits attorney Hannah Weinberger-Beder represented Ms. Garcia and her son at an administrative hearing and established that Antonio’s condition was severe enough to qualify him for benefits. Then, after Antonio was approved, Hannah discovered that SSA had underpaid Ms. Garcia because it had miscalculated her income. With Legal Aid’s help, Antonio was awarded the amount of benefits to which he is legally entitled.

“It was the worst three years ever.”

At the same time, with so much going on in her life, Ms. Garcia missed a single month’s rent payment shortly after Antonio’s premature birth. Instead of working with Ms. Garcia, her landlord tried to evict her. Fortunately, Legal Aid was there. Housing attorney Elena Bowers investigated, ultimately filing a counterclaim based on a severe bedbug infestation in Ms. Garcia’s apartment that was particularly dangerous given Antonio’s health condition. Ms. Garcia’s landlord agreed to a fair payment plan and to remedy the bedbug infestation.

With their benefits and home secured, Ms. Garcia has time to work, care for Antonio, and study for her nursing degree. Ms. Garcia said, “It’s a relief, and I was so happy, because we didn’t give up.”

*Names have been changed to protect the clients’ identities.

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William Henderson

William Henderson is the sole breadwinner for his family. He supports his wife and three children, as well as a family friend (who is blind) and her baby. He worked as a mechanic for the D.C. government, but was fired after losing his driver’s license. He had lent his car to a friend who racked up parking tickets in Mr. Henderson’s name.

After he was fired, Mr. Henderson applied for unemployment benefits, but his application was denied. To make matters worse, he never received his notice of appeal rights, and, after getting the run around from the District unemployment agency, he filed his appeal a day late. Legal Aid public benefits attorneys Drake Hagner and Jennifer Mezey took on his case.

“Thank God I’m back to work.”

Drake learned that not only was Mr. Henderson never notified of his appeal rights, but he had to rush his wife to the doctor on the day that his appeal was due. We filed a Motion for Reconsideration and secured a new hearing date. This time, with help from the AFL-CIO, Mr. Henderson was successful, and he got the unemployment benefits to which he was entitled.

And even better, with help from his union, Mr. Henderson successfully challenged his job termination and has now returned to work. The unemployment benefits served their purpose by helping his family make ends meet during a vulnerable time until Mr. Henderson was able to get his job back. As Mr. Henderson told us, “I’m just your living witness that the program works, and you guys are really doing what you set out to do.”

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