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To the Editor: When I would tell fellow law students I was off to work at G.A.A.P. last year, some would assume I was working for the clothing store. Now, as a student co-director of G.A.A.P., I’d like to explain. The General Assistance Advocacy Project (a.k.a. G.A.A.P.) is a non-profit organization that provides legal advocacy and representation to applicants and recipients of public benefits. Officially a University of California, Hastings College of the Law student group, G.A.A.P. uses Hastings law students’ energy to serve hundreds of homeless and other very low-income San Franciscans each week. Nearly 200 people come to G.A.A.P. each day for assistance with problems regarding their County Adult Assistance Program benefits (formerly known as General Assistance, or G.A.) or Food Stamps, to receive mail and phone messages at a stable location, and/or to obtain the residency verification they need to maintain eligibility for benefits. G.A.A.P. is located one block away from U.C. Hastings. G.A.A.P. was founded by Hastings law students back in 1985 to meet the need for public benefits advocacy on behalf of low-income individuals in the Tenderloin. Hastings law student volunteers make up the backbone of G.A.A.P.’s staff. Approximately two dozen students hold regular office hours during the academic year to perform client intake and advise clients of their rights and responsibilities while receiving public assistance. Many of these students, along with other students involved in G.A.A.P. but without regular office hours, have the opportunity to get involved in other aspects of the organization, from representating clients at administrative hearings, to policy reform efforts, fund-raising, and organizational development. Three Hastings students serve as co-directors of the organization. This year, Michelle Grant, 3L, is the finance co-director, Morton Park, 2L, is the advocacy co-director, and Lisa Williams, 2L, is the recruitment / volunteer co-director. In addition, members of G.A.A.P.’s Board of Directors are Hastings (and G.A.A.P.) alumni. The regulations governing county-based cash assistance, food stamps, and SSI disability have only become more complex and impenetrable since G.A.A.P.’s inception, in part due to welfare “reform” of 1996. The new County Adult Assistance Programs, implemented in November of 1998, created new sets of requirements and responsibilities that carry heavy sanction periods for clients who miss workfare assignments or appointments with their county case worker. The new programs have the potential to assist clients with vocational training and supportive services, but the myriad of regulations and procedures can confuse even the most organized and paper-friendly clients, leading to discontinuance, sanctions, and ultimately a break in the benefits on which people rely to meet their most basic needs. Law student advocates at G.A.A.P. accompany clients through the confusing procedures and requirements and ensure that county workers follow their own regulations. Many first-year students apply to volunteer at G.A.A.P. because it is one of the best opportunities for 1Ls to gain clinical experience. Students interview clients, advocate on their behalf, and see first-hand the importance of providing legal services to people with limited access to the legal system. “G.A.A.P. introduced me to street-level public interest work,” says Adam Arms, staff attorney of the Coalition on Homelessness, Hastings ’99. “As a 1st year student, it was eye-opening and inspiring to go outside the classroom and work with wronged clients who otherwise had no advocate.” Second- and third-year students, as well as aspiring first-year students, may expand upon the experience they gain their first year by representing clients at administrative hearings and working on policy reform efforts with community attorneys. “I represented a client at an administrative hearing regarding a proposed discontinuance of welfare-to-work benefits while she completed a county-approved vocational training program,” reports Jen Boutell, volunteer and former co-director. “The county withdrew its previous approval of the training program and discontinued her aid due to her full-time student status. The hearing officer upheld the discontinuance, so we ultimately had to enlist BayLegal’s assistance to file a petition for writ of mandate in San Francisco County Superior Court. The County agreed to settle the case and is continuing her aid while she finishes her schooling. We are still working with the Department of Human Services to expand the flexibility and options available in the welfare-to-work program to avoid the recurrence of similar problems.” As G.A.A.P. provides the bulk of front-line County Assistance advocacy, staff member identify many recurring issues warranting system-wide changes. “Over the past year, we noticed a sharp increase in the number of clients reporting due process and confidentiality abuses by the Fraud Early Detection Unit of the Department of Human Services,” reported Amy Marinacci, G.A.A.P.’s Program Coordinator. “We learned through our monthly community workgroup meeting that BayLegal had also seen such clients. Working together, we drafted regulations to guide an otherwise largely unchecked unit to ensure standardized notification, safeguard confidentiality, and provide the framework for a proper investigation. The county has adopted our suggestions and we are still working with them on training the workers on the new procedures,” said Marinacci. G.A.A.P. accomplishes all this with one full-time staff position, two full-time volunteers from the Jesuit Volunteers Corp / Americorps, scores of law student volunteers, and the support of the Hastings community. G.A.A.P. is funded entirely by foundations and individual supporters, as it charges no fees for its services. Every year it has several fund raising events to join the public interest community and Hastings community together. Several events for the entire Hastings student body are in the works. Hastings has already done its initial round of recruiting for the fall semester for student volunteers to work on the floor. However, G.A.A.P. is planning to form an administrative hearings team this year and also seeks to involve students in policy reform projects and other networking, outreach, and fundraising activities. Please call 415/928-8191 and ask for Amy, Michell, Morton, or Lisa if you are interested in learning more about G.A.A.P. or contributing towards their work.

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