One Victory, One Settlement, and Relief for Hundreds of Thousands

In a case we brought in partnership with Alston & Bird on behalf of Bread for the City and two individual Legal Aid clients (and consolidated with a case brought by almost two dozen state and local attorneys general), the federal District Court of the District of Columbia vacated a Trump Administration rule that would have cut off food stamps for nearly 700,000 Americans.

In Chief Judge Beryl Howell’s decision, which follows a preliminary injunction issued at the start of the pandemic, she wrote that the rule “at issue in this litigation radically and abruptly alters decades of regulatory practice, leaving States scrambling and exponentially increasing food insecurity for tens of thousands of Americans.”

While DC Attorney General Karl Racine and New York State Attorney General Letitia James and others have rightly been spotlighted for their work on this case, Legal Aid is grateful for the courage and patience of our two named plaintiffs, Geneva Tann and Damon Smith. Through their work in telling their personal stories, they were able to illustrate the impact that implementation of this rule would have on them and (by extension) thousands of others in the District.

Another client who demonstrated heroic patience: Tina Heard, a named plaintiff in a class action case we filed against the Social Security Administration (SSA) in 2015 after they confiscated millions in tax refunds over decades-old alleged overpayments to beneficiaries. SSA typically did not have documentation to support their claims of overpayments, some of which went back to the 1970s. This month, SSA agreed to provide relief, including notifying about 30,000 people about their right to apply for a waiver of their alleged debt, and to have their funds returned.

“It never seemed fair that the government withheld my tax refund just because it thought I was overpaid Social Security benefits more than 30 years ago,” Ms. Heard told us. “It seemed especially wrong that the government never told me that I owed it anything before taking my money.”

In addition to their impact on thousands of people in DC and across the country, these cases have something else in common. They demonstrate how Legal Aid’s approach of working with our individual clients to take on systems of injustice can make a life-changing difference for our clients. Of course, both cases also show what a difference your donations make. Your generous support gives Legal Aid the resources and flexibility to take on this work, and ultimately to change thousands of lives.

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