As Faber Daeufer & Itrato’s first two-year Equal Justice Works (EJW) fellowship comes to an end, recipient Jen Rasay joined the firm’s latest quarterly meeting to share some of the amazing successes achieved during her project. Working with the National Center for Law and Economic Justice (NCLEJ) in New York City, Rasay’s efforts challenged work requirements that impede access to public Medicaid benefits through advocacy, impact litigation and community-based organizing.
Rasay started her presentation with a look back at her initial introduction to Faber in early 2018. “This was the first opportunity I had as an EJW fellowship applicant to speak with representatives of Faber about Medicaid work requirements and the way that they will detrimentally affect access to healthcare for people with disabilities. I spoke about the focus on people with hidden disabilities because they already face so many challenges accessing things like Medicaid and food stamps and temporary housing because of their disabilities and lack of support.” She explained that it was a very top of mind issue at that time. “The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services administration had just sent a letter to governors effectively urging them to submit federal Medicaid work requirement waiver applications, letting them know that the federal government was ready to approve work requirements.”
In Spring 2019, through a partnership with the National Health Law Program and the New Hampshire legal assistance group, Rasay assisted in filing a lawsuit on behalf of New Hampshire residents with disabilities who rely on Medicaid to access services. The lawsuit resulted in a federal district judge vacating the federal government’s approval of the state’s work requirement program. On appeal, the Circuit Court affirmed the decision, and it is now pending review from the U.S. Supreme Court.
“As part of the work that I’ve been able to do with Faber’s support, there are currently no Medicaid work requirements in place or any states taking action to implement Medicaid work requirements,” explained Rasay. “So, people with disabilities who rely on Medicaid do not have to prove that they are working or do not have to meet work hours to keep accessing health care services.”
Rasay said that during her fellowship, she was able to employ all three of the legal methods she set out to utilize. The first was filing impact litigation cases. “The New Hampshire case benefitted almost 500,000 individuals who rely on Medicaid within the state and would have been disenrolled had requirements taken place.”
The policy advocacy method largely encompassed comment letter writing and opposing adverse state policy proposals. Rasay also focused her policy advocacy efforts on opposing proposed changes to the financial structure of Medicaid.
Rasay said that the third method of coalition building was really key to the successes of her fellowship project. “Over the past two years, I have been able to work with health justice advocates and disability rights advocates around the country either through task forces and working groups and also through our local partners on the ground… so that really speaks to the support that Faber has provided for me to be able to do all of this with my fellowship project.”
According to Rasay, her fellowship didn’t stop at Medicaid work requirements. The project also encompassed other cases involving the improvement of access to healthcare for indigent people with disabilities. The New York ADA case Newkirk vs. Pierre challenged the Suffolk County of Social Service’s lack of meaningful access to benefits for people with disabilities. As part of this case, Rasay argued her very first motion in court on behalf of plaintiffs. The motion for class certification was ultimately granted on August 26, 2020, which was also the last day of Rasay’s fellowship with CLEJ. “That was a really great way to end two years of working to make sure that people with disabilities have access to the services they need.”
The second case that she worked on during her fellowship was the Florida matter of Harrell vs. Poppell, which challenged the practice by Florida state Medicaid agencies to unduly disenroll former foster care youth from Medicaid. The lawsuit was ultimately settled in February 2020. “The defendants committed to changing the way the system works and updating their guidance, including staff training, to make sure reviews are actually happening. They also committed to being monitored by plaintiffs’ counsel to make sure they are actually complying with terms of settlement agreement.”
Rasay talked about some of the major takeaways and lessons that she gained from her fellowship experience. She explained that she has a greater commitment to amplifying clients’ voices and centering client experiences throughout her advocacy work. “This was something that was really important to all the cases I had the opportunity to work on. We would always submit plaintiff’s declarations to support the allegations we were making in those cases, and those declarations turned out to be really powerful because it was an opportunity for the individuals experiencing and being affected the most by these bad policies… to tell their stories and explain to a judge exactly what was going on in their lives and how the bad policies we were challenging were affecting them.”
Rasay said that she also gained a better understanding about approaching intersecting issues. “My fellowship wasn’t just about disability rights. It was also about economic justice, access to healthcare, poverty and benefits rights,” said Rasay. “It was all of these intersecting issues and that’s a word we hear a lot of these days to describe the compounding and overlapping challenges that many low income black and brown communities face today. Moving forward, what I’ve learned is that there needs to be a more affirmative effort to ensure that those voices are being heard and how a social justice issue furthers the liberation of black communities around the country and around the world.”
Her third takeaway was the acknowledgement that, though impact litigation is a valuable tool for advocacy work, it is only one of many. She discussed how lawsuits have limits, especially when you depend on the makeup of a court to ensure that the changes you seek actually take place.
Now that her NCLEJ fellowship has concluded, Rasay is starting a second 2-year fellowship centering on impact litigation with the Center for Reproductive Rights. She said that NCLEJ has committed to ensuring the sustainability of her Faber Fellowship project. “Rest assured that all the cases we filed as part of my fellowship project with NCLEJ are in good hands and being pushed forward with fervor along with our collaborators and partners.”
“We’re so looking forward to watching Jen’s future efforts to bring social justice to our communities,” said Faber’s managing principal Joe Faber. “And we’re excited to start thinking about how we can provide ongoing support to Jen and what we hope will soon become a large group of Faber Fellowship Alumni/ae.”
The Faber firm recently welcomed Madeline Middlebrooks as the recipient of the firm’s second two-year fellowship. A recent graduate of Sturm College of Law, University of Denver, Middlebrooks will implement a multi-dimensional legal and policy strategy to address the lead contamination water crisis in St. Louis Public Schools. “We are delighted to have Madeline join us and we are so looking forward to hearing from her and having this opportunity over the next few quarterlies to track the amazing things she well be able to do.”
Faber partners with EJW to administer the Faber Fellowship program. The organization helps remove barriers that often keep attorneys from pursuing public service careers. Having supported more than 1700 attorneys with the funding, training and guidance to pursue their public interest dreams, EJW has established itself as the nation's largest provider of post-graduate legal fellowships. Krista Selnau, portfolio manager at EJW, was present for Rasay’s quarterly presentation. She said that 85 percent of EJW fellows stay in the public interest field following their fellowships. “Now more than ever, with everything going on in the world, we are so thankful for Faber’s support.”
“Jen’s fellowship had immediate impact that’s very important – enabling the firm to catalyze roughly 4,000 hours of legal service hours in support of a dynamic not-for-profit organization, and helping to preserve critical government benefits for a very vulnerable population that was unfairly targeted by the current administration,” said Faber. “But we’re realizing that Jen’s fellowship will have long-term impact that possibly even more important – launching the professional career of an incredible lawyer who’s dedicated to public service, and engaging most of the firm’s employees in the direct charitable acts of managing and financially supporting this fellowship which may launch or strengthen commitment to a lifetime of philanthropic engagement.”