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People with Disabilities Could Have New Chance for Benefits with $8 Million In NYS Legal Help


  New York State is putting more money this year into helping residents get federal disability benefits.  This is a help for those who need the financial assistance and the state and local communities benefit as well. 

Many New Yorkers are denied when they apply for federal disability assistance.  The recourse is an appeal – which can take years and require extensive legal paperwork.  Dan Altwarg is senior managing attorney at Legal Aid Society of Mid- New York which helps a broad range of people navigate those waters. 

  "A lot of the clients that we serve have never been in a judicial or an administrative setting before, they have never been in front of a judge before, therefore it is very overwhelming for a client. The other concern with the Social Security process is the very very long time it takes to get a determination."

Hearings can be scheduled 18 – 22 months after an appeal and it can take up to a year to develop the case.  Altwarg says he sees clients as young as a year or two and up to 65.  Some have mental or physical disabilities they’re born with, others get injured and can’t work, including conditions such as PTSD in returning military service men and women.  State help for legal services is coming from the office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.  Spokesperson Anthony Farmer points out the program’s success.

"What we see here in NYS, these organizations that we fund we get about 3/4 of cases that are reversed, that compares to just 45% nationally. It could be where someone is not eligible. It is better to have that assistance to get to the process and know for sure."

And it can be a big difference.  A state public assistance grant might only be $350 a month. 

The legal aid society of mid new York serves helps with domestic violence cases, disability advocacy, elder law and foreclosure help

"Which is not enough to pay rent, little less food and healthcare. That client will also receive food stamps, which would assist with their food purchases. The Social security benefits at least doubling their monthly income, or more, depending on whether it is SSI or SSD. The client is no longer receiving public assistant thru the state of NY, therefore they don't have to adhere to the public assistant requirements concerning providing documentation re-certifying their income."

Altwarg adds it has a ripple effect.

"Well they are taking a larger benefit and they are spending it back in their community. They are buying food, buying clothes and paying their rent. Not only does it benefit the state, in that the state is not paying anything more to the client because they are now receiving Social Security, those clients in turn are now contributing more towards their local economy."

The organization will take cases a private disability lawyer won’t and don’t keep any of the retroactive benefits. 

Legal Aid Society of Mid York offers legal help to people in: 

  • Broome
  • Cayuga
  • Chenango
  • Cortland
  • Deleware
  • Herkimer
  • Jefferson
  • Lewis
  • Madison
  • Oneida
  • Onondaga
  • Oswego
  • Otsego

New York has allocated $8.2 million for legal assistance to help people with disabilities secure federal benefits.