DC Budget Cuts – Larry Tanenbaum of Akin Gump Speaks Out

Note: Larry Tanenbaum of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer, and Feld has been named District of Columbia Bar Pro Bono Attorney of the Year. Below is his statement about the Mayor’s Fiscal Year 2012 proposed budget cuts.
______________________________________
I am an attorney in Washington, D.C. and provide substantial pro bono services to clients who are disabled and dependent on Interim Disability Assistance (“IDA”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) to meet their needs for food, shelter and other basic necessities. I am writing out of concern that the Mayor’s FY12 proposed budget would eliminate any appropriation for IDA, leaving some of the most vulnerable and needy residents of the District of Columbia with no way to sustain themselves.

IDA provides financial assistance to disabled DC residents who cannot work and have no other income. The assistance is provided to residents who have applied to the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) for SSI benefits during the time that SSA is considering their application. Because the final resolution of an SSI application can often take well over one year, IDA provides recipients a means to survive during their long wait.

IDA is not only a critical program for these DC residents, it is a beneficial program for the city as it reduces reliance by IDA recipients on more costly services such as emergency shelters and unreimbursed medical care. Moreover, once an IDA recipient obtains SSI benefits from SSA, the District is automatically reimbursed for IDA payments out of the recipient’s past-due SSI payments.

On behalf of my law firm, Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer and Feld, I have been representing SSI applicants for over four years. During that time, I would estimate that more than 95% of the firm’s SSI clients have been successful in having their applications granted. With an average success rate of over 90% for all applicants who have attorney assistance, IDA is a “win win” program for the District – its citizens are provided with necessary support at minimal cost to the city.

It defies logic that the Mayor would want to eliminate the IDA program. I can attest, from first hand experience, that IDA recipients include persons who have worked hard throughout their lives but have experienced misfortune that has taken from them the ability to support themselves and their families. They have not asked to be dependent on benefits; they would rather work but unfortunately are unable to do so. During the time that their benefits applications are being processed, they require IDA assistance to enable them to continue to tread through each day until the more permanent SSI lifeline is secured. My pro bono experience has opened my eyes to the struggle these individuals endure trying to cope with their disabilities and negotiate the maze of rules and procedures necessary to qualify for assistance. Without IDA, I cannot imagine how my clients will make it.

If the city government is to be believed when it says that it takes the welfare of its residents seriously, then it must appropriate and dedicate adequate funds in the FY12 budget to ensure that IDA continues to survive as a robust program for the many residents who depend on IDA for daily sustenance and support.

Sincerely,

Larry E. Tanenbaum
Partner
Akin Gump Strauss Hauer and Feld

About Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless

The Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless envisions a just and inclusive community for all residents of the District of Columbia, where housing is a human right and where every individual and family has equal access to the resources they need to thrive. Our mission is to use the law to make justice a reality for our neighbors who struggle with homelessness and poverty. Combining community lawyering and advocacy to achieve our clients’ goals, our expert staff and network of volunteer attorneys provide low barrier, comprehensive legal services at intake sites throughout the District of Columbia, helping our clients to access housing, shelter, and life-saving services. Rooted in the experiences of this client work, we effectively blend system reform efforts, policy advocacy, community education and client engagement to advocate for long term improvements in local and federal programs that serve the low- and no-income community.
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