NYLAG’s Disability Advocacy Project (DAP) has grown dramatically since its launch in the spring of 2008, increasing its full-time staff from two to four and more than tripling the number of clients it serves. Kevin Kenneally, instrumental in DAP’s founding, continues to head DAP. Kenneally began to specialize in Social Security Disability (SSD) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) issues because he saw a great need for assisting people in navigating these bureaucracies and overcoming the meager 35% initial approval rate.

The DAP staff, which includes attorney Camille Zentner and paralegals Rachel Gerson, Liam Higgins and Cynthia Li, works to address the wrongful denial, termination or reduction of SSD and SSI benefits. Year-to-date data show that NYLAG clients received over $500,000 in retroactive benefits due to DAP staff representation at Social Security hearings. DAP staff have closed 1,666 SSI or SSD cases this year.

DAP paralegal Cynthia Li credits DAP’s energetic outreach for much of its growth, saying, “Over the past year we’ve extended our efforts by making frequent presentations at chronic illness centers and nonprofits and even appearing on a 30 minute spot on Queens public television, and the response has been significant.” But Ms. Li does not feel overwhelmed by the increased demand, noting that “DAP is well-positioned to handle this increasing caseload. We have excellent processes in place and skilled people working full-time to meet this need.”

The case of Ms. N, a single parent with six children, exemplifies the necessity of DAP and the commitment with which DAP staff pursue favorable outcomes for their clients. Ms. N contacted NYLAG in November of 2006 because her SSI had been denied when it was determined that she was not disabled. Ms. N lost her initial hearing in July of 2007. NYLAG appealed the decision to a federal court which remanded the case back for a new administrative hearing. With the support of a testifying doctor and updated medical evidence gathered by NYLAG, Ms. N was found eligible and received retroactive benefits dating from April of 2006, for a total of $24,000. The funds allowed Ms. N to provide for herself and her children.

Kenneally is pleased with the program’s progress and optimistic about its future. “We are excited about establishing new connections to community organizations so we can serve even more New Yorkers throughout the five boroughs. In 2010, DAP expects to assist a higher number of disabled clients in obtaining the SSI and SSD benefits that should have been approved at their initial applications.”
For more information about DAP, contact Kevin
Kenneally at [email protected] or 212.613.5081.