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Legal Aid and Client Work Together: Healthy Food Benefits Secured

Posted July 5, 2024
1:00 pm

A mother’s love knows no boundaries when it comes to caring for her children – it’s more than kissing injuries and tucking them in at night – it’s ensuring that all their needs are met. This includes making sure that they always have enough to eat. But what happens when this basic need is threatened? Legal Aid was recently able to help a client facing that very dilemma.

Brianna had a lot on her plate. She was juggling nursing school and raising two children with her fiancée. Brianna adored her children and wanted the best for them. When her SNAP* benefits were unexpectedly terminated, she quickly went to Job and Family Services (JFS) and placed the requested documentation in the drop box provided. *Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, provides food benefits to low-income families to supplement their grocery budget so they can afford the nutritious food essential to health and well-being.

After some time passed with no response from JFS, Brianna called their phone line. She patiently waited on hold for nearly five hours before she was completely disconnected. Brianna then went back to the JFS office. Once again, patience was required as she waited in line to speak with a JFS representative. Upon finally making it to the front of the line, the JFS representative told her that they never received her documents. Brianna continued to advocate for her family – re-applying online and again trying to call JFS.

While this burden was weighing heavy upon her shoulders, Brianna met with her doctor at University Hospitals (UH). As part of her health screening, she was asked if she was experiencing food insecurity. When she answered affirmatively, her doctor explained that UH had a Medical-Legal Partnership with Legal Aid. Through Medical-Legal Partnerships, Legal Aid works within the healthcare system to address structural problems at the root of health inequities and provide a streamlined system for patient referrals.

Brianna’s doctor referred her to Legal Aid for help with her SNAP benefits, where she was connected to attorney Jennifer Kinsley Smith and paralegal Enya Eettickal. Brianna provided Jennifer and Enya with screenshots of wait times and call attempts to JFS, and Jennifer requested that JFS follow through with the interview that Brianna was due. Brianna and her Legal Aid team refused to give up – they worked together to advocate for the SNAP benefits the family was qualified for.

With Legal Aid’s help, Brianna’s SNAP benefits were restored. She no longer had to worry about how she would put food on the table. She could now focus on her family and fulfilling her dream of finishing school and becoming a nurse.

Legal Aid staff Tonya Sams (left) and attorney Jennifer Kinsley Smith (right) with Legal Aid client Brianna Mays (center).

Legal Aid’s Medical-Legal Partnership with University Hospitals is funded by a long-term grant from the Benesch law firm. And, the growth of the partnership was supported over the past two years by a grant from the Vorys law firm.

Originally published in Legal Aid's "Poetic Justice" newsletter, Volume 21, Issue 2 in Summer 2024. See full issue at this link: “Poetic Justice” Volume 21, Issue 2.

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