Disability Advocacy Program Celebrates 35 Years

Empire Justice Center April 30, 2019

For the last 35 years, the Disability Advocacy Program (DAP) has been fighting to help some of the most vulnerable disabled New Yorkers get access to federal benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability (SSD).  As we know all too well, often applications for SSI or SSD are denied or discontinued due to lack of medical evidence or other complications.  DAP lawyers and paralegals help applicants navigate the complex process of obtaining federal benefits and assist them in the appeal process, including gathering medical evidence, working with hospitals and doctor’s offices to track down medical records, and representing claimants at their hearings.


At a recent press conference in Albany, lawmakers and advocates from across the state gathered at the Capitol to call on the New York State Legislature to maintain funding to the vital statewide program, which by helping New Yorkers with disabilities access federal benefits, saves New York State taxpayers tens of millions in the process.  Last year, DAP was funded at $8.26 million, $5.26 million from the Executive budget, and $3 million from the Legislature.


However, participating service providers have reported that they are unable to meet the demand for services in their areas, turning away thousands of applicants who need help – almost one person for every individual they are able to assist.  This year, program advocates were seeking additional funding from the Legislature to help meet the strong demand.  Funding was maintained at last year’s level.


According to Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard N. Gottfried, the original sponsor of the 1983 DAP legislation, “DAP has made a real difference in the lives of disabled New Yorkers for 35 years. It helps disabled New Yorkers access the steady sources of income they are legally entitled to, and generates $2 in state and local savings and federal payments for every $1 we spend. DAP is a tremendously successful program, and I’m delighted the Legislature has been able to support it and look forward to continuing to do so.”


Over the course of the past 35 years, a number of DAP advocates have come and gone. But a surprisingly large number of advocates have stayed anywhere from 10-35 years!  Members of the three decade club include Mary Withington of LASNNY in Saratoga; Clyde Card of Chautauqua County Legal Services; Veronica Nemec and Peter Racette of LASNNY in Plattsburgh; Kate Callery, Louise Tarantino, and Angela Hale of the Empire Justice Center; Betty Heaton of Manhattan Legal Services; and Jane Aoyama Martin of LSNYC.


A large group of advocates are part of our two decade team, including Kim Helmintoller of LASNNY in Amsterdam; Julie Casner of LASNNY in Saratoga; Connie Wiggins and Doris Cortes of the Empire Justice Center; Candy Merritt of LASNNY in Canton; Jim Denson, Andrea Sasala, and Giovanna Ferdenzi of Nassau Suffolk Law Services; Ann Biddle of the Urban Justice Center; Tanya Douglas, Delci Garcia, and William Kaplan of Manhattan Legal Services; Guilene Cherenfant, Nelson Mar, and Peggy Earisman of LSNYC; Jack Vega of Rockland Legal Aid Society; Barry Holden of LASMNY; and Mary Grace Ferone of Legal Services of the Hudson Valley.


Our rookie one decade plus squad include Emilia Sicilia of the Urban Justice Center; Diane Campbell and Ellen Heidrick of LAWNY; Diane McClernon of Nassau Suffolk Law Services; Andrew Alter and Marian Henry of Legal Services of the Hudson Valley; Erik Schryver of LSNYC; and Dan Pepitone of Manhattan Legal Services.


We are happy to do another edition of our DAP Honor Roll in our next issue, so please let us know if we have missed anyone.  Congratulations to all of you. And to the newer DAP advocates, keep at it so you can join this prestigious list in years to come.