JF&CS Volunteer News Spring 2012
Last year JF&CS staff came to a startling realization. Because of federal guidelines, there was a chance that low-income families who were receiving groceries each month from Family Table, the agency's food pantry, were at risk of losing some of their income in the form of SSI (Supplemental Security Income) benefits. Even worse, they realized there were families in need who weren't getting much-needed groceries because they were afraid their monthly payment would be cut.
Enter Mark Bronstein, disability attorney, long time JF&CS Bet Tzedek Legal Services volunteer, and JF&CS Board of Advocate member. Mark offered to tackle the labyrinthine federal bureaucracy and get Family Table certified as an SSI-qualifying program to protect the already scant funds depended on by these vulnerable clients.
"I believe that it is the community's responsibility to support disabled, elderly, and other low-income people who cannot fully support themselves," he says.
Mark, who lives in Newtonville with his wife Ellen Hemley, has devoted his over 30-year legal career to advocacy for people with disabilities and chronic illness. He has been on the JF&CS Bet Tzedek volunteer attorney panel for many years and provides advice and consultation on disability cases to JF&CS staff members on a regular basis.
"The most satisfying aspect of my work as a disability attorney is the social justice aspect. It allows me to make tikkum olam (the Jewish commitment to "repairing the world") a large part of how I earn a living," said Mark.
SSI is a federal program that provides assistance to people who have limited income and few resources – the elderly, blind or disabled people of any age, and children. Without program certification, Family Table clients who receive SSI (of which there are many) would potentially be subject to reductions in their monthly benefit because of the support they receive from the Family Table program.
After determining which administrative agency was in charge of certification, Mark steadily moved the ball forward, making numerous phone calls and repeat inquiries to various administrative heads to get the process completed. After a year of tireless negotiations, Family Table was certified as a qualifying program under SSI, protecting all current and future recipients.
"This was no simple process. Kudos to our wonderful volunteer for his persistence and for getting the job done," said Rachel Pemstein, Esq., Director of JF&CS Bet Tzedek.
Every year, JF&CS Bet Tzedek Legal Services provides access to free, civil legal services to more than 350 people in desperate situations who could not otherwise afford an attorney. The program is managed by an attorney and relies heavily on the generosity of its volunteer attorney panel to provide services to its clients. Thanks to Mark's hard work, individuals and families who receive a monthly food distribution from Family Table will no longer have to worry that their SSI benefits will be reduced. It's a huge relief and an important accomplishment for the agency.
"Working on this issue under the auspices of JF&CS definitely made the bureaucracy more responsive than it would have been if I was just advocating on behalf of a single client," said Mark. "Working with JF&CS is particularly satisfying because it involves community advocacy, and I believe that the most effective social justice work is where you're working on issues with a community of people who are affected by them."
For more information, call 781-647-JFCS (5327) or email your questions via our contact us page.