2012 Equal Justice Works Fellow, Stephanie Cocce

Stephanie Cocce

City, State: Boston, Massachusetts
Issue area: Children/Youth, Disability Rights Public Benefits/Welfare Reform
Sponsors: Anonymous

The Project

Stephanie advocated for low-income children with disabilities facing a devastating loss for economic and health supports due to Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefit reductions, suspensions, and terminations for non-disability reasons.

The Inspiration

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Need Addressed By Project: 
Specialized therapeutic, child care, and educational services for low-income children with disabilities exacerbate financial strains on families already struggling to make ends meet. SSI is a vital source of assistance for these families. SSI alleviates the strains of poverty more effectively than other public benefits and almost always guarantees Medicaid coverage. Accordingly, a loss of SSI can result in hunger, homelessness, and lack of health care. Once a child receives SSI, any misstep by a parent or error by Social Security Administration staff can result in an abrupt benefit reduction or termination. Without legal representation, low-income children with disabilities risk losing their critical SSI benefits and their families may be held liable for thousands of dollars in alleged overpayments or misused funds, plunging them deeper into poverty.
Fellowship Highlights: 
During her Fellowship, Stephanie:
• Provided brief advice and referrals to 70 families of low-income children with disabilities
• Represented 84 families wrongfully facing SSI benefit reductions, terminations, suspensions, or recoupments
• Prepared self-help materials for families to navigate the complex SSI rules and advocate for themselves
• Researched and drafted an article on the legislative history behind the Social Security Administration’s restrictive regulations governing how families can use retroactive SSI awards; proposed policy changes that would loosen restrictions and allow families to use retroactive awards in meaningful ways to improve the lives of their children with disabilities





Biography

Hometown:

Barrington, Rhode Island

Law school:

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