A little advocacy goes a long way

Abigail came to LAF with an unusual problem. She was thirty-five years old and was born and raised in Chicago, but she’d never applied for a social security number. For most of her life, Abigail had lived with her mother, and she’d spent the last several years providing in-home care while her mother’s health declined. The two of them lived on her mom’s pension payments.

When her mother passed away, Abigail was left with no income. She needed an ID to apply for a job, and she needed a social security card to apply for an ID, but she lacked the necessary papers for registering with social security. So she came to LAF’s Katten De Diego legal clinic for help.

“She went her entire childhood without any official documentation. She was totally off the grid,” says Jenelle Pedroza, a social worker with LAF who worked on Abigail’s case. Jenelle accompanied Abigail to multiple appointments with the Social Security Administration, using whatever they could to establish her identity. They got creative with the materials they presented, even using newspaper clippings that featured a young Abigail with her mother at The Field Museum. Amy Marinacci, a supervisory attorney with LAF’s public benefits practice group, drafted a demand letter arguing that the documents Abigail presented were, in fact, sufficient to establish her identity. After months of perseverance, Abigail finally picked up her social security card. “It seems simple, but this had huge implications for what she could and couldn’t do. I hope we’ve helped her start reaching her goals,” says Jenelle.

Dora came to the Woodlawn legal clinic looking for help collecting the benefits from her husband’s life insurance policy after he died unexpectedly. The insurer claimed she was behind on premium payments, until she showed them the money order receipts proving she had, in fact, paid them. Then they claimed that her husband was terminally ill when he bought the policy, and they weren’t obligated to pay. VISTA attorney Dana Harbaugh provided the medical records proving that their claim was bogus.

Dora had been getting the run-around for months, but, as Dana herself says, “As soon as I called and said, ‘I’m her attorney,’ things went a lot more smoothly. And then, one day, I got a $10,000 check in the mail. It’s a great example of how advocacy can make a big difference, even if it’s not a complicated legal issue. That money will make a huge difference in her life, and she was entitled to it the whole time.

Both Abigail and Dora show how a little bit of advocacy goes a long way.

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