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Cooley LLP provides pro bono counsel to obtain wrongfully terminated public benefits for 7,000 low-income families

Friday, April 26, 2013

  • Organization: The Legal Aid Society

In August 2010, Cooley LLP joined The Legal Aid Society (“Legal Aid”) and The New York Legal Assistance Group (“NYLAG”) as co-counsel in Hercules v. Doar, a federal class action against the City and the State for illegally reducing Safety Net Assistance (“SNA”) to families with children.  The benefit reduction was for excessively long periods when the recipients were sanctioned for alleged violations of the public assistance employment requirements.  Although families can be penalized or sanctioned for up to six months when they miss a mandatory appointment, due to a long term computer programming issue incorrect notices informed SNA recipients living with children that they were subject to penalties in excess of six months, which only applies to childless households.  Adriene Holder, Attorney-in-Charge of The Legal Aid Society’s Civil Practice, stated, “This 'computer error' had persisted for over six years, during which time the City had been shortchanging thousands of low-income families with minor children

After three years of litigation, the United States Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York approved a negotiated settlement in which the City will issue more than $3 million in retroactive benefits payments.  More than 7,000 New York City recipients of SNA will receive retro-payments of between $100 and $718.  In addition, approximately 8,000 additional households are eligible to receive Hercules payments when they return to the public assistance rolls within the next 34 months.

The City and the State have corrected their computer systems, modified their sanction notices to include information necessary to allow individuals to challenge the duration of their sanctions, and lifted any improper sanctions currently in effect.  They also will delete the sanctions resulting from these improper notices from class members’ records and will not count them in assessing any future penalties. Legal Aid, NYLAG, and Cooley will monitor the City’s notices for the next 34 months to ensure that similar problems do not recur.

The Cooley legal team was comprised of Jason Koral, Jennifer Lerner, Jennifer Pavane Kenter, and former partner William O’Brien.  Legal Aid’s attorneys included Lester Helfman, Susan Sternberg, Susan Bahn, and Kenneth Stephens.  NYLAG’s lawyers were Jane Greengold Stevens, Julia Russell, and Danielle Tarantolo

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