Children and Youth Law Clinic interns Olivia Retenauer, 3L, and Karen Chrisman, 2L, have successfully helped two former foster youths. The Clinic secured a favorable outcome from the Social Security Administration, which stated the individuals would not have to repay $25,931 in benefits.
J.S. and A.S., siblings who recently aged out of foster care, received benefits from Social Security because of their mother's disability. When the children entered foster care, the benefits were transferred to the foster care agency and used to subsidize their care.
"If parents are unable to complete 'substantial gainful activity' and are unable to work, their dependents receive monetary benefits via Social Security. These benefits are called Child's Benefits," Retenauer explained.
Alleging that she had been working, Social Security determined that the mother was not eligible for disability benefits, and therefore, the children were also ineligible. Social Security sought to collect $25,931 in overpayments from J.S. and A.S.
Initially, the interns filed a Reconsideration challenging the Social Security Administration's calculation of the amount owed. "We then decided to file for Waiver, which alleges that our clients were both without fault and that making them satisfy the debt would be unfair. In addition to the Waiver form, we attached an addendum detailing their past, current situation, and their hopes for the future which would be put on hold or ultimately halted because of their debt," Retenauer said.
Chrisman, a summer intern in the Clinic, took over where Retenauer had left off. "[Retenauer] had already laid all of the legal groundwork through her applications and research for the twins. My job then became contacting the Social Security Administration almost every day to find out whether any determinations had been made," Chrisman said.
On more than one occasion Chrisman was told that the request for waiver had been misplaced or was never received. Finally after contacting four different local offices and two national offices Chrisman was able to speak to the person in charge of waivers for overpayment. "She listened as I explained the twins' story and was sympathetic to what they have been through in the past few years. She asked me to resend their information – for the fifth time – and promised to give me a result within the week, suggesting a favorable outcome," Chrisman said.
Within the week, as promised, a full waiver of overpayment for both siblings had been delivered.
Retenauer remembers jumping in excitement when she received the e-mail from the Clinic notifying her that Social Security had waived the debt. "A heavy burden had been lifted from my clients and they could really begin anew," she said.
She describes it as the moment she realized what the Children and Youth Law Clinic is all about. Retenauer said, "It was not about "winning" a case in an administrative or state court, but rather empowering clients through our counseling and legal victories."
The Children & Youth Law Clinic was created in 1995 and represents children in foster care and former foster youth in dependency, health care, mental health, disability, independent living, education, immigration and other general civil legal matters, in an effort to ensure that they have a voice during court proceedings.
Approximately 24 students take on chief responsibility for all facets of a client's case. While the students are intensely supervised by three Florida-licensed attorneys, they are encouraged to take ownership of the cases assigned.
One of the directors of the Children and Youth Law Clinic, Kele Stewart, said "I do not simply give them the answer. Rather, I provide them with tools to find the answer and ask probing questions to help them effectively problem solve on their own".
Retenauer believes the clinic does not just aid clients in achieving a legal result. "In the Clinic, we provide our clients with the legal service, guidance, and encouragement they need to reach their full potential," she added.