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Advanced Public Assistance and Food Stamp Eligibility 2014: Special Populations


Speaker(s): Afua Atta-Mensah, Christopher J. Portelli, Kathleen M. Kelleher, Sienna M. Fontaine, Sumani Lanka, Susan E. Welber
Recorded on: Aug. 1, 2014
PLI Program #: 51491

Christopher J. Portelli is Senior Staff Attorney at the New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG) in Manhattan. He is founder and director of the Economic Justice Clinic at NYLAG. The clinic trains law students from St. John’s University School of Law and Brooklyn Law School in public benefits and allows the students to provide legal services to low income and homeless New Yorkers with attorney supervision. He is Co-Director of Project FAIR, a fair hearing assistance program run jointly by NYLAG and the Legal Aid Society. He frequently trains law students and attorneys in various topics in Poverty Law.  He earned his BA in Philosophy from DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, his JD from New York Law School, and a Masters of Philosophy in Public and Urban Policy at The New School.  He has recently taught courses in law and public policy at Brooklyn Law School, St. John’s University School of Law, The Milano Graduate School (The New School) and New York Law School. His previous teaching experience includes interdisciplinary courses at New York University, St. Peter’s University (Jersey City), and American University (Washington, DC).


Katie Kelleher is a staff attorney in The Legal Aid Society’s Civil Law Reform Unit where she and her colleagues represent thousands of low-income clients in class-action litigation related to disability rights and government benefits.  A graduate of the University of Michigan and Northeastern University Law School, she has been at the Legal Aid Society since 1992 and is a past recipient of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York's  Legal Services Award.


Sumani Lanka, Esq. is a 2005 graduate of Brooklyn Law School and currently works as a staff attorney in the Law Reform Unit at the Legal Aid Society, joining her colleagues in bringing class action litigation in the benefits area.  Previously, Ms. Lanka worked as a staff attorney in the Foreclosure Prevention Unit at the Queens Neighborhood Office of the Legal Aid Society, litigating cases on behalf of homeowners who needed assistance and/or were victims of predatory lending.  Prior to her time at the Legal Aid Society, she worked as a legal analyst at American International Group, Inc., as an integral part of its insurance defense team.  In addition, Ms. Lanka worked as a consumer bankruptcy attorney at Charles Juntikka & Associates, LLP specializing in Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcies, and an employment and labor attorney at Barnes, Iaccarino, Virginia, Ambinder & Shepherd PLLC, focusing primarily on workers’ rights and ERISA claims.


Susan Welber is a staff attorney in the Legal Aid Society's Civil Practice Law Reform Unit where she focuses on affirmative litigation relating to welfare and other government benefits. Susan has also represented clients on government benefits issues as a staff attorney in Legal Aid's Bronx and Brooklyn neighborhood offices. Prior to joining Legal Aid,  Susan was an associate at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. Susan has also taught Legal Writing and Poverty Law as an adjunct at Fordham University School of Law.


Afua Atta-Mensah is the Director of Litigation at the Safety Net Project of the Urban Justice Center. She received her Bachelors from Trinity College where she was a Presidential Fellow and is a graduate of Fordham University School of Law where she was a Stein Scholar. Prior to joining the Urban Justice Center, Afua was a staff attorney in The Legal Aid Society’s Civil Practice Law Reform Unit, the Policy Director at the Center for Working Families, and was the receipient of a Fulbright Fellowship that sponsored her work at the International Federation of Women Attorneys-Accra, Ghana. Afua has also worked as an advisor to community based organizations throughout New York City and has served as an adjunct professor at Fordham Law.


Sienna Fontaine is the Deputy Legal Director at Make the Road New York (MRNY), a community based organization that aims to build immigrant and working class power through organizing, education and support services.  Prior to joining MRNY, Sienna was the Director of Public Benefits at Legal Services NYC – Bronx (LSNYC-Bronx), where she practiced for 8 years, representing individuals and families in civil litigation and administrative hearings to secure access to and maintain public benefits.   Sienna’s litigation included Johnson v. Berlin, Index No. 400081/10 (Sup. Ct. N.Y. Co.), which resulted in expanding the time frames within which an appellant can request that a defaulted fair hearing be rescheduled.  She began at LSNYC-Bronx as a Skadden Fellow, establishing the Bronx Medical-Legal Advocacy Project; a collaboration between LSNYC-Bronx and Montefiore Hospital to provide direct legal services at two ambulatory family medicine clinics.  Sienna graduated from NYU School of Law in 2007, where she participated in the Medical-Legal Advocacy Clinic, the Family Defense Clinic, and was an editor on the Review of Law and Social Change.  Sienna grew up in the Bay Area, California, and received her B.A. from U.C. Berkeley, where she studied Sociology and Spanish.