By: Roma Amin, Fall 2017 HeLP Clinic Student Intern
Social injustice is an unfortunate and inevitable consequence of our modern society. However, I believe the law can be used to create an equal playing field because it provides equitable solutions for individuals in otherwise inequitable positions. Over the course of two semesters in the HeLP Clinic, I have witnessed how the law can be used to help families in need, but also how it can sometimes be a barrier for those families.
A sick child adds further strain on families that are already struggling financially. Although the government provides benefits, specifically Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for such families, it must draw a line on who gets those benefits. As a HeLP I student, I worked with some families that had very sick children, but unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) their children were not sick enough to meet the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) legal standards for proving disability. This can be frustrating for families who truly need financial assistance to provide health care for their children. I remember feeling defeated when I realized that SSA’s stringent requirements may prevent my clients from receiving benefits. I would speak with the medical students working with us in the clinic about my clients, and they would often agree that the children in my cases were disabled. But sadly, they were as shocked as I was when I told them that the child was not “disabled enough” to meet SSA’s requirements. That realization made me question SSA’s motivations when creating their standards for disability.
Over time, I have been able to take a step back and realize why SSA may have created the rules as they have. Resources are limited and not every child can receive benefits because that would be very costly and likely unreasonable. SSA must be strict so they can wisely use their resources to help those that really need it. In this sense, the law provides an avenue for assistance, but doesn’t necessarily guarantee that the family will in fact receive assistance. It took me a while to truly accept that concept and realize what my role as an advocate really means.
Despite the strictness of SSA’s requirements, I still truly believe that the law is a tool that can be utilized to help needy families. It all depends on the family’s advocate in the matter and how willing and capable that person is in fighting to make the best possible case for that client. Fortunately for our clinic clients, student interns like myself are devoted to seeing their cases through to the end. This means doing whatever it takes to understand the legal issues facing the client, researching the relevant law, and masterfully applying the law to the client’s facts. Many of the clinic clients reach some sort of resolution on their legal issues, and for the most part, that resolution is successful. It’s not necessarily clear at first, and it takes patience and perseverance, but through our work in the clinic we can utilize the law as a tool to combat social injustice.