Andrew Chandler

The Project

Andrew (he/him/his) will utilize legal services alongside robust community outreach programs at the Legal Aid Society to secure and preserve public benefits for low-income individuals and families in Louisville, Kentucky.

Our nation’s social safety net represents an absolutely vital lifeline for ensuring that the basic needs of families and individuals are met and, moreover, that the long-term social mobility necessary to escape extreme poverty can be facilitated. However, a decades-old political agenda of ruthless welfare austerity predicated upon class oppression and the often explicitly racist distinctions between the “deserving” and “undeserving” poor have resulted in a system that brutally shames and materially harms our society’s most vulnerable citizens. Louisville is no exception, and our community deserves comprehensive guidance and representation to ensure that every economically distressed person receives the benefits they need.

Every food stamp denial, every failure to provide medical coverage, every refusal to fulfill the promise of our social safety net represents another deadly arrow fired from the cruel structure of policy violence afflicting our low-income communities. Because material relief and access to justice are often far out of reach for these communities, Andrew feels called to join the Legal Aid Society in providing aid. He hopes to facilitate economic mobility through public benefits advocacy and thereby help to alleviate the suffering administered against the often-hidden wards of our city where generational poverty remains a brutally anchored reality.

Fellowship Plans

Andrew will help low-income families secure food benefits and connect Louisville’s unhoused population with steady financial lifelines via Social Security and related programs. This Fellowship will also maintain an open channel with the expungement arm of the Legal Aid Society to assist individuals who were previously ineligible for public benefits as a collateral consequence of a criminal conviction.

Media

Recent graduate receives Equal Justice Works Fellowship

As a native of Louisville, Kentucky, with a single-minded interest in public service, I bear a natural connection to the community and a deep sense of moral urgency towards improving the material economic conditions of our city’s most vulnerable residents.

Andrew Chandler /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Alison (she/her/hers) connects Bronx Residents to the public benefits they need through a new medical-legal partnership, working with community organizations to identify barriers and advocate for improvements to public benefits.

As the borough with the most COVID-19 hospitalizations and the highest unemployment rate, the Bronx was hit hard by the pandemic. One in seven residents were infected with COVID-19 before the Omicron wave in late 2021. Alison’s project will leverage legal tools in partnership with community organizations to ensure that pandemic recovery in the Bronx is equitable.

Fellowship Plans

Alison’s project aims to improve two core social determinants of health: economic stability and healthcare access, for Bronx residents through an innovative medical-legal partnership. Her Fellowship has three core goals: increasing access to public benefits (especially medical benefits) to enable pandemic recovery; addressing systemic challenges faced by benefits program participants; and combining community lawyering with medical-legal partnerships.

As someone who has benefited immensely from public benefits like the GI bill, I know our social safety net can work for people if we design it that way. I’m excited to improve access to benefits now while pushing the system to be better in the future.

Alison Roberts /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Ian (he/him/his) helps soon-to-be-released prisoners in Illinois access public benefits such as SSI/SSDI and Medicare/Medicaid with the goal of reducing post-release health decline, homelessness, and recidivism.

Around one-third of prisoners in the United States report having a disability. Unaddressed disabilities contribute directly to hardship after prison. Inability to secure income through employment can make accessing housing or healthcare virtually impossible. Ultimately, these hardships contribute to a cycle of homelessness and recriminalization for too many disabled persons.

The Pre-Release Enrollment Program is designed to interrupt this cycle at a critical juncture: reentry from prison. Helping incarcerated persons start their claims before release puts them in a better position to acquire benefits soon after release, narrowing the gap of support between prison and the community.

Fellowship Plans

Ian will work between the Illinois Department of Corrections, Disability Determination Services, and local Social Security Administration offices to facilitate applications for presently incarcerated persons. He will help prisoners produce the evidence and documentation necessary for successful benefits claims. In the long term, this project seeks to lay the foundation for an integrated, community-partnered reentry unit in Illinois.

I believe stable and healthy communities are an indispensable pillar of a just society. The Pre-Release Enrollment Program has the potential to help disabled and criminalized Illinoisians successfully reintegrate into communities and thrive there.

Ian McCollum /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Grant (he/him/his) investigates the automated decision-making systems used in government benefits programs and advocates for low-income individuals across the United States whose benefits have been unfairly reduced or eliminated because of algorithmic bias.

More than 37 million Americans are in poverty, and with rising inflation and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many more rely on government benefits to keep themselves afloat. To meet rising needs, state and local agencies across the United States have turned to automated decision-making systems to make government benefits programs more efficient and effective. However, many automated decision-making systems are deeply flawed and exhibit serious errors and biases that unfairly reduce or eliminate government benefits for those most in need: low-income communities of color. For the millions who rely on government assistance, these algorithmic errors can cause serious harm—often without impacted individuals ever knowing.

The son of an engineer, Grant has long believed that technology and justice go hand-in-hand. He has worked both within and outside government to fight algorithmic bias, surveillance, and corruption.

Fellowship Plans

During his Fellowship, Grant will file Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to publicize how government agencies use automated decision-making systems and challenge agencies who fail to disclose information in court. Alongside organizations serving low-incoming communities, Grant will develop educational materials and provide support for impacted individuals by filing amicus briefs. And to prevent future harm, Grant will push state agencies and legislatures alike to adopt A.I. guidelines that protect individuals from algorithmic harm.

Too many families have struggled to stay afloat amid COVID-19, and they should be able to trust our government to support them. EPIC’s work ensures that agencies use artificial intelligence to help, not hurt, those in need.

Grant Fergusson /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Hope (she/her/hers) will provide direct legal services for citizens in rural Texas border communities facing obstacles to obtaining proof of identity and citizenship.

Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA) estimates that they receive 50-70 calls every year from United States citizens having trouble obtaining driver’s licenses, passports, social security cards, and other identity documents because federal and state laws do not account for the realities of low-income transitional families living on the Texas-Mexico border. People with birth certificates signed by midwives (parteras) and people who attended secondary school in Mexico for a period often have a particularly difficult time meeting the evidentiary requirements for obtaining proof of citizenship documents. The technical administrative knowledge required to pursue these claims, combined with their time-intensive and fact-specific nature, means that TRLA is currently unable to address the need among its client communities for these claims.

Hope’s experience living and working in rural communities across the American South makes her familiar with the barriers low-income people in rural communities face in accessing resources. Hope’s time spent working as part of TRLA’s civil rights team introduced her to the issues faced by many border community citizens in obtaining proof of identity and citizenship.

Fellowship Plans

Hope will represent people in rural border communities having trouble obtaining proof of identity and citizenship documents in administrative proceedings with state agencies, the Social Security Administration, and the U.S. Department of State. For individuals facing prolonged denial of the benefits of U.S. citizenship, 8 U.S.C. § 1503 offers clients a remedy in federal court. Hope will also be conducting outreach to raise awareness and hosting identity document application clinics along the middle border region, as well as working to develop streamlined resources for other TRLA attorneys handling proof-of-citizenship claims.

Born and raised in rural Georgia, I understand how difficult it can be for disadvantaged populations in resource-scarce rural areas to access basic government services.

Hope Bettler /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Olivia (she/her/hers) will aid young people experiencing homelessness in successfully navigating the public benefits process through a wide range of advocacy in Snohomish County, Washington.

In Washington, over 13,000 young people are homeless and unaccompanied, making up more than 32% of the homeless population. Young people who are Black, Indigenous, pregnant or parenting, LGTBQ, disabled, involved with juvenile justice or foster care, or victims of sexual exploitation disproportionately experience homelessness. This population faces countless challenges in a system of services designed for adults.

This project will fund the only attorney in Snohomish County dedicated to advocating for the rights of homeless young people to access and maintain public benefits. It will fill a gap identified by community stakeholders and promote access to life-sustaining benefits for a vulnerable population.

As a person of color with a disability, Olivia is driven to serve young people as they navigate the complexities of obtaining and maintaining public benefits.

Fellowship Plans

Olivia will collaborate with stakeholders to implement a Public Benefits Clinic for young people experiencing homelessness. She will create accessible materials for young people educating them on the public benefits process. In addition, Olivia will develop a questionnaire to gather relevant information about youth clients and inform future work with homeless young people.

Receiving legal aid was instrumental to my graduation from college. I am honored to build community with and serve the most marginalized young people in Snohomish County and facilitate their healing as my attorneys did mine.”

Olivia Ortiz /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Melissa (she/her/hers) will engage in individual and systemic advocacy to expand access and address barriers to Medicaid home health care, enabling more low-income Florida seniors to stay safely at home and out of nursing homes.

Institutionalization should not be the only guaranteed option for older low-income Floridians living with severe disabilities, but this is often the case. Seniors on Medicaid who require long-term services and supports are able to get immediate nursing home care, but if they would like to access home health services as an alternative, they are forced to go through an extremely complicated process just to get on a waitlist with no guarantee of ever receiving these services. The ability to access home health services, especially for Floridians of Color and immigrants, is critical, as racial disparities in nursing homes are profound.

Growing up between the U.S. and Mexico, Melissa saw the differences in the way aging individuals are treated. Her Mexican grandmother lives in a multigenerational home supported by home health care and family, while her American grandparents spent their last years in a nursing home, largely alone. Melissa believes that everyone should be able to access care that allows them to stay safely at home and with their families.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Melissa will engage in individual and systemic advocacy to expand access and address barriers to Medicaid home health care for low-income Florida seniors. She will create Know Your Rights materials and toolkits to support grievances and appeals for Long-Term Care Waiver enrollees and their families, as well as offer trainings to advocates and providers. She will also undertake administrative advocacy to address policy and systems level issues.

No one should be forced to choose between accessing needed healthcare and staying safely at home with their loved ones just because of their socio-economic status.

Melissa Lipnick /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Tara aims to make accessible and affordable childcare for low-income people in Massachusetts a reality through direct representation, community outreach, and systemic advocacy.

Cost makes childcare inaccessible to most low-income people in Massachusetts. Unfortunately, newly developed regulations of childcare subsidies and vouchers make affordable childcare largely inaccessible. This also makes the benefits of affordable childcare, including mitigating the impact of toxic stress and increasing access to work, education, and healthcare, inaccessible. Tara will work to reform existing and newly implemented state agency policies and practices to recognize the rights of low-income Massachusetts residents and to secure increased access to affordable childcare.

Access to childcare can help disrupt intergenerational poverty by increasing opportunity and improving the health and well-being of parents, guardians and children. Tara believes that policies and programs should be guided by the lived experience of low-income persons, and she aims to ensure that their voices are elevated in the development of childcare regulations.

Fellowship Plans

Tara will provide representation to individuals who have been unfairly denied or terminated from childcare subsidies and vouchers. Tara will work with community and grassroots organizations to identify individuals who need representation and to ensure that low-income Massachusetts residents are aware of their rights in the applications process and once they have attained childcare assistance. After having engaged in community outreach and individual representation, Tara will work to make necessary changes to the law to combat structural barriers to accessing affordable childcare.

Childcare is a vital tool to mitigate the causes and consequences of poverty. The provision of this resource should not just be a formalistic benefit but an actual, accessible resource.

Tara Wilson /
Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Inspiration

The Inspiration