Northwest Justice Project
Michael Althauser is currently interning with Northwest Justice Project in their Olympia office, which provides civil legal aid to seniors and low-income Washingtonians seeking assistance. Michael's work will be focused on administrative law, public benefits cases, and housing issues facing residents of south Puget Sound.
July 24, 2013
Today marks the halfway point in my internship with Northwest Justice Project in Olympia. It's hard to believe that five short weeks ago, I began my work with NJP. Over that short time period, I've had the opportunity to advocate on behalf of multiple clients and for rule changes in an administrative law context. I'm really enjoying my time here.
My client work revolves around representing Washingtonians of moderate means and seniors in their interactions with state agency and department officials in an effort to reverse a denial or termination of benefits. Since this is in an administrative setting, I am actually able to represent my clients in their hearings before an administrative law judge despite not being Rule 9 certified. The span of benefits and administrative law I have to familiarize myself with is quite broad, ranging from the Basic Health Plan and TANF to appeals rules and timelines.
My first client, let's call him Earl, sought a reversal of his denial of benefits. Earl had a rough patch earlier in life but had been on the straight and narrow for quite some time. Earl was trying to do right by a child he was taking care of and sought benefits so he could better provide for the child in general. Unfortunately, Earl's past continued to haunt him and his application was denied. After hearing his story and researching the relevant law, I drafted a demand letter on Earl's behalf that we submitted to the department, seeking a reversal prior to administrative hearing. I got my first WIN in a reversal 100 percent favorable to our client as the state offered Earl the benefits he sought. It was a great day for me personally and an even greater day for Earl when I called him up to tell him the good news.
While client work takes up the bulk of my time, I also get to work on administrative law issues. I went to law school to train myself how to become a better policy analyst and ultimately policy counsel, so I really enjoy this type of work when it comes my way.
Upon walking into the office on my first day of work, I had to prepare comments on a proposed rule regarding access to Washington's new Health Benefit Exchange. The rule was about ensuring that those with disabilities would be able to access the services offered by the exchange in a meaningful way. With a deadline of just a few hours — and little pre-existing knowledge on the issue — drafting the comments was a difficult project to tackle. Fortunately, I took an introductory class in administrative law from Professor Van Cleve in the spring, so I had some administrative law tools to rely on. My supervising attorney was so pleased with my work product that administrative law projects became part of my project profile immediately. I have been assigned and completed several other comment and analysis projects since.
As the next five weeks of my internship unfold, there is still much to look forward to. My first hearing in front of an administrative law judge is just around the corner. Also, the Health Benefit Exchange goes live in less than 100 days and many rules and regulations have still not been decided. It's been a blast so far and I can't wait to see what the next half of my internship has in store for me.