Reine, an elderly immigrant from Togo, came to LAF in dire circumstances and with a legal case that seemed next to impossible. A widow with no source of income and very limited English proficiency, Reine had applied for Social Security Income (SSI) benefits to support herself. The Social Security Administration (SSA) learned through the interview process that Reine had family in Togo and that her children lived in a family home there. She explained she did not own the home, but SSA pressed her to include it in her list of belongings and resources, which then put her over the SSI limit. Her SSI application was denied.
Reine contacted LAF and was connected with LAF's Stephanie Bogdan. Stephanie listened to Reine's story and learned that Reine's deceased husband had owned the home in Togo, but that Reine had lived outside the home in a camp with her husband's seven other wives. The wives were not entitled to the property after the husband died – everything was to be passed to his heirs, not his wives. Stephanie tried to explain this to SSA, to no avail. She submitted sworn statements from Reine’s family confirming that Reine had absolutely no right to the property, but SSA was not convinced. Stephanie didn’t back down. She dug further through piles of SSA policy and United Nations reports and even Togolese property laws to prove that it was impossible for Reine to own the home. Still no dice. Undeterred, Stephanie even argued that if SSA insisted on assuming that Reine had a right to the home, then its value had to be divided by 8 to account for each of the wives who would allegedly have a property right in the home - thereby making the value of Reine's portion well below the SSI limit.
Finally, the local SSA office wrote a simple four sentence decision for Reine, finding "the property in Togo is not counted as [her] resource since it does not belong to [her]." Now Reine has her much needed SSI benefits and will hopefully never have to deal with this issue again. Luckily for our clients, Stephanie will surely deal with SSA again, relying on her smart and savvy advocacy to win the benefits to which our clients are rightfully entitled.