2025 Design-Your-Own Fellowship Applications are Open

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Hannah Eichner

The Project

Hannah’s (she/her) medical-legal partnership will help District of Columbia residents access vital public benefits, like Medicaid and SNAP (food stamps), through the provision of direct representation, city-wide assistance to case managers, and systemic advocacy.

After changes to a computer system that processes benefits eligibility, the District government’s timely and accurate processing of public benefits applications has fallen dramatically. For example, in fiscal year 2022 DC processed just 43% of SNAP applications within federally mandated timeframes, by far the worst rate in the nation. This has profound consequences for the more than 300,000 DC residents who rely on public benefits, who are disproportionately Black and other people of color. With so many residents not receiving the benefits they are entitled to, legal service providers cannot begin to represent everyone whose rights have been violated.

Hannah’s lived experience with a complex medical condition, and the experiences of her friends and clients, fuel her commitment to ensuring that people can easily access the benefits and services they need to thrive.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Hannah will work through a medical-legal partnership to represent patients of Bread for the City’s medical clinic to appeal erroneous or delayed public benefits decisions. She will also work with non-attorney case managers to build their capacity to appeal public benefits decisions to the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH). Additionally, she will seek relief on a system-wide basis in select OAH cases, and pursue other systemic strategies to improve the processing of public benefits applications in DC.

I went to law school because I saw low-income friends with disabilities struggle to access public benefits, like Medicaid, that they really needed and were legally entitled to. I am honored to get to work with DC residents facing similar issues.

Hannah Eichner /
2024 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Jane (she/her/hers) will provide representation to Tennesseans enrolled in the state’s healthcare programs; develop tools to identify racial and wealth disparities in health coverage; and advocate for policy changes to address how systemic racism impairs Tennessee’s public safety net.

Over one million Tennesseans rely on Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to meet their health needs. Community advocates devoted to ensuring these programs meet those needs have long advocated for a focus on health equity when delivering these programs. However, policymakers lack the data to assess claims that eligible households across Tennessee do not fully realize the promises made by these programs. Jane will provide direct representation to Medicaid, CHIP, and SNAP beneficiaries and track the health equity outcomes for each program. Through her work, Jane will create tools that identify healthcare gaps and address their collective impact on Tennesseans.

Jane’s passion for movement lawyering inspires her to balance legal services and data analysis with principled community organizing and first-hand narratives of health injustice as essential components of the effort to improve Tennessee’s ability to provide quality healthcare to all households in need.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Jane will represent Tennesseans seeking access to complete Medicaid, CHIP, and SNAP coverage. She will uplift stories from community members whose race, income, environment, debt, and education impact their ability to receive coverage. Additionally, she will collect and analyze data from state agencies to create an interactive health equity dashboard accessible to all Tennesseans.

Without a focus on health equity in direct representation and policymaking, Tennessee's public safety net will continue to have systemic failures. I am passionate about supporting the fight to improve the state's health programs in the long-term.

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.

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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.

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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) provided direct legal services for citizens in rural Texas border communities facing obstacles to obtaining proof of identity and citizenship.

Today, getting a passport, ID, or driver’s license requires a birth certificate. But for decades across southwest Texas, birth certificates were not the default for non-hospital or midwife-assisted births—baptismal certificates were. Even citizens with birth certificates may have trouble getting identity and citizenship documents if their birth was assisted by a midwife the U.S. government investigated for fraud (such investigations are common along the U.S.-Mexico border, despite consistently failing to yield evidence that can be used to identify fraudulently registered births).

Fellowship Highlights

During the two-year Fellowship, Hope:

  • Won a federal bench trial in Section 1503 citizenship case working with Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid (TRLA) colleagues—the highly favorable order is valuable precedent for hundreds of other Section 1503 plaintiffs
  • Represented clients in submitting records requests, administrative proceedings, and litigation to obtain citizenship and identity documents
  • Provided ongoing, full representation to 13 clients and brief services, advice, and/or referrals to an additional 25 individuals
  • Worked with several teams across TRLA to support clients having trouble getting identity documents
  • Developed a comprehensive guide for other attorneys and legal services providers helping people obtain identity and citizenship documents
  • Increased direct representation of clients
  • Shared the comprehensive guide she developed with other legal services providers at conferences and events
  • Developed strategies to resolve known issue areas in ID access

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) aided 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 funded the only attorney in Snohomish County dedicated to advocating for the rights of homeless young people to access and maintain public benefits. It filled a gap identified by community stakeholders and promoted 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 Highlights

During the two-year Fellowship, Olivia:

  • Collaborated with stakeholders to implement a Public Benefits Clinic for young people experiencing homelessness.
  • Created accessible materials for young people educating them on the public benefits process
  • Developed 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) engaged in individual and systemic advocacy at the Florida Health Justice Project 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 being able to receive 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 Highlights

During the two-year Fellowship, Melissa:

  • Represented multiple individuals in Medicaid Fair Hearings
  • Become a certified Long-Term Care Ombudsman
  • Reviewed over 160 Medicaid Fair Hearing Decisions to identify systemic issues and areas for advocacy
  • Provided advice and resources to social workers, doctors, a law school professor, and other legal aid organizations, often on issues related to accessing services while enrolled in the long term care waiver
  • Presented on issues in long term care at the Florida Elder Justice Conference
  • Created and updated materials on the need for Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) in Miami-Dade County, as well as Know Your Rights flyers for HCBS enrollees
  • Collaborated with approximately 15 groups to expand reach and impact of the project
  • Published narratives of individuals struggling to access Home and Community Based Services
  • Engaged in administrative advocacy to address systemic issues affecting individuals applying for the Long-Term Care Waiver

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