Emory University School of Law, Atlanta Legal Aid Society and OSAH launch the Public Benefits Project.
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OSAH is pleased to announce the inauguration of the Public Benefits Project in partnership with Emory University School of Law and Atlanta Legal Aid Society. As of February 2014, nineteen Emory Law students, under the supervision of Atlanta Legal Aid Attorney Nancy Rhinehart, will be providing free legal advice and representation to public benefit recipients in cases scheduled to appear on Judge Michael Malihi’s Fulton County Public Assistance Calendar. The Public Benefits Project is the culmination of months of planning by Judge Malihi, OSAH staff attorney Shoshana Elon, Nancy Rhinehart, and Sarah Shalf of Emory University School of Law. OSAH, Atlanta Legal Aid, and Emory Law have joined forces to create this project with the dual goals of helping public benefit applicants and recipients negotiate the administrative hearings process, while also giving law students invaluable experience assisting needy clients and an opportunity to improve litigation skills. The hope is that the project will expedite the fair resolution of public assistance cases, to the benefit of public benefit recipients, the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS), and OSAH.
The Public Benefits Project works as follows. Informational fliers accompany all Fulton County Food Stamp hearing notices. The fliers describe the project and direct petitioners to call a specially designated phone number, housed at the Atlanta Legal Aid’s DeKalb office, for free legal assistance. Volunteer students return all calls and screen potential clients for inclusion in the project. Students discuss the merits of each case with their supervising attorney before making critical decisions. Most clients will receive brief service in the form of advice or an email to a DFCS worker on their behalf. When appropriate, a student may represent a client at a hearing.
After an initial pilot period, the expectation is that this project can be expanded to include additional case types and/or food stamp appeals out of additional counties.