The economic downturn and rising cost of living have forced many working New Yorkers onto a precipice of financial instability—and for some a serious illness can send them over the edge into poverty.

A hotel agent at a Manhattan hotel, Alan was young, married, and in relatively good health until he developed a persistent health problem in 2008. After seeing a doctor, he learned that he had a tumor.

At the outset, Alan’s prognosis was good—it looked like he would only need surgery and that he wouldn’t spend extended time in the hospital or require chemotherapy.

Unfortunately, the cancer wasn’t that easy to treat. Starting in late 2008, Alan underwent several radiation treatments. When he wasn’t in the hospital, Alan was exhausted from his treatments and sick from the effects of the chemotherapy. And while his employer adjusted his schedule to accommodate his illness, Alan was only able to work a day or two per week for a few hours at a time.

Bills began to pile up and Alan fell behind on his rent. In addition to his life-threatening disease, Alan and his family also faced a lawsuit from their landlord for overdue rent and barely had money to buy food. Without access to or knowledge about existing resources, Alan and his family didn’t know where to turn for help.

Then a social worker at the hospital connected Alan with a lawyer named Brian from LegalHealth.

Brian sat down with Alan and his family to determine what options were available to them. Brian then helped Alan complete the necessary paperwork to enroll him in public benefits programs and to request short-term disability. Brian also looked for solutions to Alan’s housing situation so that his family would not risk losing their apartment.

With Brian’s assistance, Alan and his family were able to gain access to food stamps and short-term disability—providing them with enough resources to cover their expenses during Alan’s treatment and recovery. Brian also helped Alan apply for Social Security disability and when his initial application was denied, Brian assisted him with the appeal. Eventually the family was also able to recover several months in back payments to help pay their landlord for the rent owed. Access to these resources helped to pull Alan and his family back from the brink during this critical time.

Three years later, Alan is recovering from his battle with cancer and is looking forward to returning to work. Without the support from NYLAG’s LegalHealth Division, he doesn’t think he would be in this position today.

By connecting people to health resources and helping them navigate complex legal challenges during times of illness and vulnerability, LegalHealth plays an important role in improving the health of New Yorkers across the State. It has made a significant difference in Alan’s life and to thousands of others like him.

About this Initiative

The New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG), a nonprofit that provides free legal services to low-income New Yorkers, is working to soften the fall for families who have hit hard times and ultimately help them get back on their feet. NYLAG’s LegalHealth Division assists people in overcoming a variety of legal challenges, from gaining rent assistance to securing eligibility for public benefits during serious illnesses. This support helps people with serious illnesses to concentrate on getting better without also fearing the loss of their homes or defaulting on their bills.

LegalHealth has already helped thousands of New Yorkers improve the lives of low-income children and adults with serious health issues by improving access to health care and connecting them to benefits. With support from NYHealth, LegalHealth is now helping to expand medical-legal partnerships in four regions throughout the State to reach a greater number of New Yorkers

NYHealth is supporting NYLAG’s efforts with a grant through the NYHealth Special Projects Fund. The project is consistent with the Foundation’s interest in supporting projects that scale up effective programs or services to reach more people.

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