Weishaupt, Richard 2016

Last modified: 2021-02-09 04:03
Storyteller: Weishaupt, Richard
Interviewer: Houseman, Alan
Date of interview: 2016-04-26
Length: 0:56:16

Topics: Affordable Care Act, Health, Poverty law, Public benefits, and SSI
Geo, US: PA
Lists: Reggies
Medium: Video
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NEJL I.D.: NEJL-009.105
Georgetown status: Video upon request
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Link to NEJL page: http://aspace.ll.georgetown.edu/public/repositories/2/archival_objects/417
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Transcript link: Transcript
Transcript status: DeleteMeSoon
Transcript notes:

Consortium status: Gtn info copied
Consortium notes:

Excerpt:

Worked at Community Legal Services in Philadelphia for more than 30 years. Specialist in public benefits and health law and has written extensively in the field. Received numerous awards.



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Description

Bio note
From https://clsphila.org/about-cls/staff/advocates/253:
Richard P. Weishaupt has worked at Community Legal Services for more than 30 years, where he is currently a Senior Attorney for Health and Human Services. He specializes in public benefits and health law and has written extensively in the field. Currently he is working on expanding health care for all Pennsylvanians and is working on the latest variation of welfare to work policies in the TANF program.

Mr. Weishaupt has designed and taught substantive law and legal skills programs for lawyers, paralegals, and lay people. These include programs for: Philadelphia and Pennsylvania Bar Associations, Legal Services Corporation, National Health Law Project, Children’s Defense Fund, National Legal Aid and Defender Association, various City agencies and numerous colleges and law schools in the area.

Mr. Weishaupt has received a shared NLADA Reginald Heber Smith Award given to the outstanding civil legal aid attorney, and an award, The Arc for Outstanding Efforts on behalf of the disabled, shared with other colleagues at CLS as well as the National Association of Protection and Advocacy Systems, Advocacy Award for Advancing the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. He is also the recipient of a visiting Wasserstein Fellowship in public interest law at Harvard in 2007 and a Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network Striving for Excellence award in 2009. Most recently, Mr. Weishaupt received the Bernard White Community Service Award, presented by Planned Lifetime Assistance Network of Pennsylvania.

Mr. Weishaupt earned his J.D. from Harvard Law School. He graduated from Fordham University with a B.A. in Economics.

Full text of transcript

Consortium for the National Equal Justice Library
Oral History Collection
Interview with
Richard Weishaupt
Conducted by Alan Houseman
April 26, 2016

Alan Houseman:
This is an oral history of Richard Weishaupt. The interviewer is Alan Houseman. It is being done at the office of Community Legal Services in Philadelphia on April 26th, 2016. Richard, tell us a little about where you grew up, where you went to college and law school, a little bit about your background.

Richard Weishaupt:
I grew up in a blue collar neighborhood in New York City, in a subdivision of Queens called Jackson Heights. I went to Fordham University in the Bronx, and then decided I wanted to leave New York, and went to Harvard Law School where I became a lawyer. Then after law school, I was excited about the prospect of working for low income people, and I took a job at Community Legal Services in Philadelphia right out of law school.

Alan Houseman:
What year was that?

Richard Weishaupt:
1974.

Alan Houseman:
Right. you’ve been here ever since.

Richard Weishaupt:
I’ve been here ever since.

Alan Houseman:
What led you in law school to go into work at Community Legal Services? What influences were there on you?

Richard Weishaupt:
Well, I went to law school thinking that I wanted to do something that was socially useful. We were coming out of the Vietnam War era, and the civil rights era, and I had been active in both. I had a number of teachers who really excited me about the prospect of working in legal services, probably the most notable of whom was Gary Bellow, who was a good friend of mine and a mentor, and really excited me about the prospect of working in legal services.

Richard Weishaupt:
When I was winding up law school, I started looking around for places to work. Philadelphia had the courage to hire me. Community Legal Services had just gotten a large grant from the state and hired 20-some odd lawyers, at the same time. Then the next year we hired another 20-some. So we grew from a program that had maybe 40 lawyers to a program that had 80 or 90. It was a very exciting time. We had five or six offices around the city. We were very excited and we had lots of bright young people who were very eager to get started. Some of the people I worked with at that time had been in legal services for like two, three, four years, and they were considered the old heads who were going to guide us through this. We were all just very young and very eager to fight injustice and work on behalf of clients. So I plunged in and that’s what I did.

Alan Houseman:
Before we turn to some of your specific advocacy work, I’d like to ask, did you work with welfare rights groups? Did you know Ed Sparer?

Richard Weishaupt:
Well, I got assigned to work in the welfare unit. One of our jobs at that point was to work with the Welfare Rights Organization. So I started going up to the Welfare Rights Organization, which was, and still is, in North Philadelphia. That is a low income neighborhood that’s the heart of the African American community. I started showing up there, and helping them with intake, and advising people. Eventually I became the unofficial general counsel to the Welfare Rights Organization. I would help them with all sorts of stuff that had to do with their organization, and accompanied them to meetings with government officials.

Richard Weishaupt:
Most of the time, I worked with Louise Brookins, who was then the executive director of the Welfare Rights Organization. Then I also had a relationship with Roxanne Jones, who had been the founder of the Philadelphia Welfare Rights Organization. But had some personal things that she had to take care of, so she walked away from the Welfare Rights Organization for a while. Louise took over, and then eventually Roxanne came back. I mediated between the two because they were both very strong, powerful women. Roxanne eventually became the first African American woman to sit in our state senate.

Alan Houseman:
Give a little flavor of how many welfare recipients are active in Philadelphia Welfare Rights, and some of the kinds of things that they did. Because you worked with them on it.

Richard Weishaupt:
The core group at Philadelphia Welfare Rights was probably around 50 people, but they had hundreds of people come through their offices in the month, and this was a time when the welfare department was still pretty lawless in terms of the way they behaved towards recipients. There were a lot of recipients. I think there were probably a half a million people statewide who were receiving AFDC at the time. There were probably another hundred or two hundred thousand people receiving general assistance. They all had problems and issues.

Richard Weishaupt:
We would meet with the Secretary of Welfare in Harrisburg, and we would also go and lobby for things like a grant increase. I remember we would have long discussions into the night trying to decide whether we should ask to have the welfare grant raised to the poverty level immediately, little knowing that 40 years later, the welfare grant in Pennsylvania would be 23% of the poverty level. It seemed at that point it was probably in the 80s, and the big question was, could we get to the poverty level.

Alan Houseman:
Tell me a little bit about working with Ed Sparer and who he was.

Richard Weishaupt:
I met him because of my work with the Philadelphia Welfare Rights Organization. I can’t remember exactly the first time that I met Ed. He was teaching at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. Eventually he became one of my best friends. He was actually the best man at our wedding. By the way, Louise Brookins also read at our wedding. Unfortunately, neither of them are still with us. But Ed and Gary were very similar guys in some ways, and they really inspired me to work with grassroots organizations and not lead them, but work as their lawyer, and follow their lead in terms of what they made their priorities and what they wanted to do. That was an exciting thing to do. I was right out of law school and I’m meeting with the governor and with the state welfare secretary. Sometimes some of the discussions were pretty pitched, but I think eventually a lot of mutual respect arose.

Richard Weishaupt:
So, I started hanging out with Ed whenever I could. Ed had been the general counsel to the Welfare Rights Organization, and he introduced me to a lot of people that were still in leadership there. George Wiley, who had been the founder and organizer, I think had died in a boating accident just before I came into legal services.

Alan Houseman:
That’s correct.

Richard Weishaupt:
But I met with Richard Cloward and Fran Piven, who were friends of Ed’s, and who were some of the inspiration for the organization. I met with a lot of other leaders. We’d go to national conferences of the NLADA, or CLASP, or other organizations you may have heard of. I’d meet people from other parts of the United States. I met with Johnny Tillman, and Frankie Jeter, and other people who had been active and were continuing to be active in that movement.

Alan Houseman:
Ed of course is one of the architects of community work on legal aid, and one of the substantive architects of the war on poverty in the legal aid world.

Richard Weishaupt:
Right.

Alan Houseman:
You have been an advocate at CLS in the public benefits unit for a long time. One of the many things you’ve done was counsel in Sullivan versus Zebley. Tell me about that case, what led to that case, what happened in that case, and the impact of that case.

Richard Weishaupt:
Just to give you a little back story, one of the first things that happened when I got out of law school is that the federal government started the SSI program, the Supplemental Security Income program, which helped aged, blind, and disabled people. The states had state-run programs. The fear was that the states had pushed everybody that they possibly could onto the federal program. The feds announced that they were going to review all of the cases and cut people off if they didn’t think that the state had been justified to determine them to be disabled, without any due process. So one of the first things I did was be the second chair in a lawsuit to keep those people on SSI and make sure that they got due process. We were successful in that. Nationwide, the legal services programs had enough victories that eventually the feds just said, “Okay, we’ll give everybody due process.”

Richard Weishaupt:
I had been talking to Ed all the time because of course he’d been the engineer of Goldberg v. Kelly. So, we started looking at a particular part of the SSI program which was that it was the first program that awarded benefits to, and recognized the needs of, children with disabilities. All the other programs were modeled on Social Security, which dealt with wage earners and their disabilities. This subprogram was meant to help kids with disabilities. It went along okay for a while. We, as a society, knew a lot less about children and their disabilities than we do now. But eventually, we started to realize that it was particularly hard to get children onto SSI no matter how serious their disabilities were. So, through the early 80s, there was a lot of advocacy on the SSI program. The Reagan Administration was not a big fan of the program and tried to kick a lot of people off.

Richard Weishaupt:
I started working in that general area with a lot of other folks. One of the leaders is one of my favorite people that I’ve met in legal services, a woman named Eileen Sweeney. Eileen was a wonderful, humble, warm advocate who just had this talent to bring people together. So we’d form these national groups. Eileen would send out a mailing about every month. This was before email, of course. She’d send out this, like, phone book of all the cases that she had collected and what was going on, and she’d write reports. I’d eagerly wait for the mail to come, literally. This was how much of a wonk I was. I would open the mail and read all of Eileen’s stuff, and send it out to people.

Richard Weishaupt:
When that started to die down, we started to realize that there’s something unfair about the way that they adjudicate children’s cases. The more we looked at it, we realized that adults could either show that they met one of these listed impairments, which were just obvious problems that made it easy for the Social Security Administration to decide quickly a person’s disability, or adults could go beyond the listing and show that their combination of things, or their unusual disabilities, basically precluded them from work. But with children the Social Security Administration basically said, if you don’t have a disability on that list and meet it exactly, you’re denied benefits. We thought that that violated the statute itself, because the statute said that children should be eligible if they have a disability of comparable severity to that of an adult who would be found eligible. We were saying there was no comparable severity because adults get to go beyond the listing and show that their combination of factors or unusual disabilities. We said there has to be a step for children that’s comparable.

Richard Weishaupt:
There were a couple of early cases that frankly didn’t have great facts, and that went the other way. We decided we were going to take a shot at attacking this head on. Together with my main co-counsel Jon Stein, who was one of those old guys who had been in legal services for like two or three more years than me, we started looking for cases. We eventually found the case of Brian Zebley, who was represented by a suburban office of Legal Services in Delaware County, which is right outside of Philadelphia. The attorney was Mark Hoffman. Mark needed help as the case went on. We decided to make the case into a class action. We brought in several other children who had been unfairly denied in a similar way. Given that a lot of the lower court cases had been around the country, we decided to make it a national class, because basically this was going to be our one shot at doing something nationally.

Richard Weishaupt:
We won in the Third Circuit. Jonathan did the argument. I did the second chair. Then the government appealed. It was a two to one decision. We kind of knew it was going to the Supreme Court because there was a split between the circuits by this time. So, we wound up in the U.S. Supreme Court. Jonathan was gracious enough to let me do the argument in the Supreme Court. So I memorized all the listings of impairments. I mean, I knew all that stuff front and backwards.

Richard Weishaupt:
We also got the help of a large number of amicus briefs. There was another lawsuit in Chicago that was a little bit behind ours in terms of the timing so Chicago Legal Aid decided that they would file an amicus brief on behalf of their class of clients in the Seventh Circuit. The American Medical Association was convinced to come in as an amicus. The American Psychiatry Association, the Children’s Defense Fund. So we had lots of people. We had the doctors saying things like, “We can do this. We can develop ways to evaluate children and their functional abilities.” It’s not impossible, as Social Security was claiming. It’s not unusual for pediatricians in particular to talk about children and their functions. I think that played a big part in convincing some of the justices that this was a doable thing and it made a lot of sense.

Richard Weishaupt:
So, we went to the Supreme Court and we won in a seven to two decision. Just a personal thing, I remember I got up, and I was pretty nervous. This was my first time arguing in the Supreme Court. There’s a little podium there, and I’m not a tall guy. I moved the podium down so that I could rest my hands on it. It had a little crank. But I didn’t realize that the microphone was attached to the top of the podium, and by cranking it down so that I could rest my hands there, my mouth was too far from the microphone. Justice Marshall stopped me and he said, “Young man, crank that up. You’re not on the microphone.” Then he looks at me, and he winks, and he says — and of course, he’s about as far away as I am from you — “Us tall guys got to stick together.” Justice Brennan, who was not a tall guy, he’s about five foot four, said, “Don’t worry, this isn’t coming off your time.”

Richard Weishaupt:
So, I did the argument and it went very well. At one point, Justice Stevens asked me a question. He says, “Well, where does it say that they refuse to evaluate functional impairments?” It was kinda … he knew the answer. I knew the exact page cite, and it’s in the record. I said, “Well, it’s on page 466 of the record.” He had it bookmarked, and he opens it, and he reads along with me. So we read in unison together, and then he slaps the thing shut and he says, “That’s it for me.” He puts it down. He turns to Justice Scalia, who at that time was junior and way down on the end. He kind of looks like, “Yep, that’s it for me.” That was that. So, we won, and then-

Alan Houseman:
What was the impact of this?

Richard Weishaupt:
Well, there were about 600,000 people. Since it was a class, we went back and we convinced the lower court to redo all the cases that had been decided since the beginning of the class definition, which I think was 1980 because they had written one policy that made it crystal clear — and it had probably been their policy all along — that they weren’t going to get involved in functional evaluations. So we got a class that consisted of every child denied benefits since that date on. I think it was about 452,000 people. I think somewhere around 75% of them asked for a re-adjudication. I think I talked to about two-thirds of them. I mean, our phone just rang, and rang, and rang, and rang. We actually had a special Zebley hotline. I probably didn’t talk to that many people, but it sure seemed that way. Eventually, I think another 70% of the folks that had been denied won their cases. It completely changed the way they evaluated children’s disabilities. It was very exciting. The disability rights community was getting started, and this just added to the thing. It really meant for the first time that low income children that also had a disability could get the extra help that they needed.

Richard Weishaupt:
It was particularly important because SSI in most states comes with Medicaid. Now, the Affordable Care Act has basically made almost all kids in the United States eligible. But at that point, there were a lot of kids with working families where they didn’t get Medicaid because the Medicaid levels were so low in the states that they came from. This meant that this particular class could get the Medicaid that they needed, which was a very big deal. It meant that they had a stable source of medical care. That became even more important a couple years after that when the EPSDT program, Early Periodic Screening Diagnosis and Treatment program, said basically if a child is diagnosed with a problem, then it has to be treated regardless of what the menu of services is that the state normally has. So basically, if these disabled kids had a problem, it had to be treated. That was a tremendous one-two punch that really helped a lot of kids.

Alan Houseman:
When was Zebley decided, by the way?

Richard Weishaupt:
1990.

Alan Houseman:
Since Zebley, have there been efforts by Congress, the federal government, to restrict SSI disability for kids?

Richard Weishaupt:
Yes.

Alan Houseman:
Talk a little bit about it.

Richard Weishaupt:
In 1996, there was a lot of talk about so called welfare reform. The SSI program was under attack because of the so called Contract with America. The initial draft of the bill was to restrict SSI only to children who would be otherwise institutionalized, which would have been an extremely difficult test, especially since the whole trend was away from institutionalization. We worked together with the same alliance that had stood up for Zebley. We got them to change the law and change it in a way that it still has a functional test. It’s not quite as good as the test we had originally won. But it still preserved eligibility for the vast majority of kids, and made for a test that allowed the flexibility that made for realistic evaluations.

Richard Weishaupt:
Eventually, what happened is that about 100,000 kids were at risk. There were some bad decisions made. Eventually the Social Security Commissioner was a gentleman named Ken Apfel, appointed by the Democratic president at the time. Ken said, “You know, I think there are still some problems. You brought me cases that illustrate that there are some problems.” He ordered a reevaluation of all the kids who had been cut off. That saved probably another half. So the SSI program continues. There are still criticisms of it. There’s allegations that little children can somehow trick psychiatrists into thinking that they’re crazy when they’re not. There are politicians who are very critical of the program. But the vast majority of folks support the program, and the program still exists to this day.

Alan Houseman:
Right. Well, let’s talk about some of your other work. You’ve done a lot of work around health care and Medicaid. Why don’t you trace a little bit of that work and bring it up to the Affordable Care?

Richard Weishaupt:
After we won Zebley, I was casting around for things to do. No … I once said to somebody the punishment for winning Zebley was to have to deal with 482,000 class members. But the Medicaid program was a crucial program. I started to realize how crucial it was when I started to talk to families about what the Medicaid coverage meant for them and their kids. It’s also an expensive program, and it’s made to be a more expensive program because the states aggressively try to qualify as many of the services they provide as Medicaid eligible, because then they get federal matching money. Pennsylvania’s always been around 54, 55% match. The feds kick in that much and the state the rest.

Richard Weishaupt:
But then people in the Pennsylvania legislature would say, “Oh my God, look at this. The Medicaid program is our largest single program. We have to cut it.” So every year for a number of years, the administrations would say we’ve got to cut Medicaid, we got to do this, we got to do that. Early on, one of the things that they wanted to eliminate was glasses for poor people. We tried to explain to them that that was not really a very good idea because a lot of people need glasses to work. I couldn’t work without my glasses. A lot of low income people didn’t have $100 for a pair of eyeglasses. This was way back. Now it would cost more. So Pennsylvania just said, “That’s it.” They sent out a letter just basically saying, “We’re ending the eyeglasses program.”

Richard Weishaupt:
We filed a lawsuit saying the notice has to be clear as to what exactly you’re ending, how you’re ending it. You have to give people time to plan and adjust, so if they had a need for eyeglasses, they could get them before the program ended. That was a case called Eder v. Beal. Beal was the state welfare secretary at the time. It went up to the Third Circuit, and I did the argument. I knew it was going well when the chief judge in the middle of the three judge panel says to me, “So, basically what you’re saying is that they’ve got to shape up before they can ship out?” Of course, we had not said anything that pithy in our briefs, but I said, “Yes, that’s exactly right.” Like when Justice Stevens had asked me the question and I knew enough to say yes.

Richard Weishaupt:
We won Eder, and it led to the eyeglasses program being continued for another year and a half. This case is not that famous. But it began a yearly thing where every year around budget time, the state would propose to cut Medicaid benefits in some draconian way. They’d always write a letter that didn’t give people all the information and didn’t explain the exceptions. So we’d file a lawsuit. It got to the point where basically several welfare secretaries said, “Okay, we give up.” Then we would actually sit and talk. Louise Brookins and I, and other members of the Welfare Rights Organization, would talk to the state officials. They’d say, we need to cut the Medicaid program. We’d say, well you can’t cut services. You have to do this. It actually became a much more sensible discussion that didn’t lead to people being denied services that they desperately needed.

Richard Weishaupt:
One welfare secretary, I can’t even remember who at the time it was, said basically, “No matter what happens, it seems like you guys always win in court.” Of course, that’s not always the case, but of course, it also occurred to me not to deny that. So I said, “Yeah, basically. We’re always going to fight these things, we’re always going to win, and it would make a lot more sense to negotiate before we get involved in these discussions. Maybe there’s a way that we can find common ground.” We’d look for ways to draw down more federal money, or to make the services more efficient, or maybe to tinker around with the reimbursement levels that the medical professionals got. As a result, we managed to keep the Medicaid program from getting pared away too much.

Richard Weishaupt:
Fast forward. I’d always been involved in Medicaid programs and the string of cases that we brought just made me like to do Medicaid stuff a lot. By this time we were working with another grassroots organization, and eventually the Affordable Care Act passed. We thought this was a tremendous victory. We were really excited about it. In Pennsylvania, it was a very good thing because Pennsylvania had a general assistance program for people who didn’t meet one of the traditional aged, blind, disabled, or have children categories. Just men and women who are adults, but didn’t have kids, or their kids had grown, and they had no health insurance. They were poor, but they had no health insurance. The Affordable Care Act was going to provide them with coverage and save Pennsylvania a lot of money, because the state was paying for that healthcare without any federal participation.

Richard Weishaupt:
Then of course, the opponents of the Affordable Care Act sued in federal court, mostly concerned about the coverage mandate for people. We were all set for that, and went up to the Supreme Court, and we were holding our breath. But that provision didn’t really affect our clients that much because those are for people who could at least, allegedly, afford premiums. Our folks were mostly people below 138% of the poverty line, which was the expanded Medicaid thing. Then, the day of the decision, the Supreme Court in the NFIB case upholds the coverage mandate, but says that it’s forcing states to provide Medicaid coverage to everyone, and that’s not fair to the states. It was like, wow. At the time, our governor was not a friend of the president’s. He refused to do the expansion now that the Supreme Court had given the state the opportunity to opt out of that mandatory expansion.

Alan Houseman:
Which governor?

Richard Weishaupt:
It was Governor Tom Corbett.
Alan Houseman:
Oh yeah, okay.

Richard Weishaupt:
By this time, of course, the Legal Services Corporation had been subject to restrictions. Our legal aid program at Community Legal Services was one that had turned down federal money so we weren’t subject to all these restrictions. We pointed out that Pennsylvania was losing a lot of money because the state was providing health care for all these folks without any reimbursement. Large portions of the health community became aware of the fact that they were going to suffer cuts because, the way the Affordable Care Act was written, it was supposed to do away with special payments to hospitals to compensate for the fact that they dealt with a lot of uninsured people. The theory was when we expand coverage to everybody, there’s going to be a lot less of those people.

Richard Weishaupt:
So the hospitals realized that money, which was called DRG money, diagnostic related groups money, was going to go away. So, we kept hammering away that the way to solve this is to expand Medicaid. We had the votes in both houses. So the leadership wouldn’t let allow an up or down vote on Medicaid expansion. Even though both houses by this time were Republican, we had enough votes on both sides of the aisle to pass a bill mandating expansion. So the leadership wouldn’t let it come to a vote.

Richard Weishaupt:
Then the governor says, “I’m going to do it on my own, but I want 25 waivers.” These are permissions to deviate from normal Medicaid, including have a work test so that the only way you can get Medicaid is if you do so many hours of community service. We met with Cindy Mann, a legal services graduate who by this time was running the federal Medicaid program. We said this is violative of the Medicaid Act. It doesn’t test anything. It’s an illegitimate subject for waiver. You have no money with which you could possibly fund this operation. I think this fell on receptive ears. There was a lot of back and forth. Eventually, the CMS, which is the program that supervises the Medicaid program, said, “We can’t approve the vast majority of the waivers.” Eventually, we pared it down so that there were only three provisions left in the waiver, one of which was eliminating non-emergency transportation, which in a rural state like Pennsylvania is a big deal. But it was relatively minor things like premiums for people over 100% of the poverty level.

Richard Weishaupt:
Well, we were all set for that to start, and then there was an election. Governor Corbett had proposed that the program start in January of 2014. But there was an election in November of 2013, and Governor Corbett became the first one term governor in the 20th century in Pennsylvania. The new guy, Tom Wolf, had run saying, “I’m going to do a straight Medicaid expansion.” I think most of the voters didn’t really understand exactly what that meant. But he won by a sizeable margin.

Richard Weishaupt:
So now it’s late December. Governor Corbett says, “Well, I don’t leave office until the inauguration day,” which in Pennsylvania is around January 20th. “I’m going to start my program with the waiver.” So then we filed a bunch of lawsuits attacking the program because the program was so complicated it would have been a train wreck. It had all these things like, you had to collect a $5 premium from all these poor folks who didn’t have access to checking accounts. We didn’t get a preliminary injunction. But we slowed things down enough. Eventually the Wolf people came in and just said we’re doing away with all that and we’re just going to do a full Medicaid expansion. That’s how Pennsylvania got a full Medicaid expansion with no reductions in services and no premiums. Especially for poor people, premiums, no matter how small they are, eliminate a lot of people from the eligibility pool. As a result of that expansion, Pennsylvania’s budget is in better shape, and as of last count, there were a 550,000 newly eligible people getting Medicaid in Pennsylvania.

Alan Houseman:
Is there anything we’ve left out that you would say is a highlight of your advocacy while you’ve been at CLS?

Richard Weishaupt:
You know, I just feel really fortunate. I come to work every day, and you know, there’s daily frustrations. The copier doesn’t work. There are always frustrations in working with a program that doesn’t have enough funding. Philadelphia is one of the largest big cities in the United States, with a poverty level of 25%. So 25% of the population of Philadelphia is below the poverty line, in a city with 1.6 million people. We have about 45 lawyers to represent those 400,000 people. So, it can be frustrating to say no. I think being old school, my first reaction is not to say no. I’ve had a lot of fun not saying no with people. I appeared before the state boxing commission once for some guy that I met on intake, and I felt sorry for. He’d been denied his boxing license illegally. That was my one and only appearance before the boxing commission.

Richard Weishaupt:
But I come to work every day, and every day is like a new day. I like meeting the people. I sometimes feel bad that there aren’t as many grassroots groups, and they don’t have the vibrancy that they once did. But I feel privileged to work with them. I spoke at Roxanne’s funeral. I spoke at Louise’s funeral. I spoke at Ed’s funeral. These are people that helped me in my career and in my life, and they were all friends. I miss them tremendously. But I also feel incredibly privileged to have learned from Ed Sparer, who’s one of the smartest, kindest people I’ve ever met, and who was a brilliant guy, and who invented the course of advocacy that went to the welfare rights movement and to a lot of the court victories that we had. So, I guess the highlight of my career is meeting so many people from all walks of life, and being able to help them and learn from them. Can I tell one tiny little story?

Alan Houseman:
Yes.

Richard Weishaupt:
We represented a gentleman who had lost his leg fleeing from the Nazis in the Soviet Union, a train accident. He was hiding. I don’t know exactly how it happened. He becomes a math teacher. Then, when the Soviet Union starts to break up, he starts to be persecuted because he’s Jewish. The passports list your ethnic group in the former Soviet Union, and it said Jewish on it. He started being the victim of anti-Semitism, and he had to leave and come to the United States. He got on SSI because he had one leg. He found out that SSI was limited to seven years for refugees as a result of a provision in the so called Welfare Reform Act.

Richard Weishaupt:
So, we sued the FBI. This poor guy wanted to become a citizen, but they were just delaying, and delaying, and delaying. We sued the FBI, the INS, the Social Security Administration, everybody we could think of. We just said this is unfair that this guy can’t even get his citizenship application processed. We won a motion to dismiss. President Clinton, when he signed that provision, he said, “This is unfair, and I want these folks to get the first priority.”

Richard Weishaupt:
I took a deposition of the number two guy at INS, and he said, “No, we never did that. We didn’t give them any special priority.” Then we had done discovery, and we had found out that who did get priority were people coming into the United States who wanted to see the U.S. Open. So, I’m sitting there with my co-counsel, who knows nothing about sports, and I said, “Oh, so you give priority to people attending the U.S. Open?” Then I kinda went, “Golf or tennis?” The guy smiled at me, and he said, “Both.” So I said, “Okay.” Oh boy, it was like, oh God. The end of the story is we got a special procedure that you put on the outside of the envelope Kaplan v. Chertoff case and they would give that special priority throughout the system and through the FBI checks, through the INS checks. They were all carefully vetted, but they were just vetted first. Shmuel Kaplan became a citizen as a result of that, and he got his SSI restored.

Richard Weishaupt:
We had a lot of calls from a lot of people, speaking a lot of languages. I have in my office a map of the world, and every time we get someone who’s from one of those countries where they’re refugees or asylees, I put a pin in the map. There’s a lot of pins in that map. I’m pretty proud of that.

Alan Houseman:
That’s a great story. Okay. Let’s finish up. You’ve been appointed to a number of things because of your work. Give us some examples of some of the most important appointments that you’ve had.

Richard Weishaupt:
Oh gee. The meetings with the Welfare Rights Organization eventually became the meeting with the Income Maintenance Advisory Committee, patterned on the fact that every Medicaid agency is supposed to have an advisory committee. I sat on that for a while. But my specialty has always been eligibility. So we started another one that isn’t really federally mandated, but which is very useful. We meet every month or two with the people who determine who’s eligible for all of the programs that are administered by our state welfare department. It’s a way to talk and avoid litigation, and also improve the programs.

Richard Weishaupt:
One of the things that came out of that work was Governor Corbett’s first welfare secretary decided that there were way too many people on Medicaid. He decided that everybody had to have their case reviewed in a month long period. We called it log jam July. They just didn’t have the staff for it. On the last day of July, they cut everybody off. We actually filed the brief and the complaint, and we gave it to their attorneys. Their attorneys knew that we had a pretty good track record. Eventually, 160,000 people were restored to the Medicaid program.

Alan Houseman:
You’re also on a couple of national things too, right?

Richard Weishaupt:
Yeah. We also meet-

Alan Houseman:
The National Academy for Social Insurance.

Richard Weishaupt:
Yeah, as a result of Eileen Sweeney. I know she was a friend of yours, too. She died of breast cancer. She nominated me for the National Academy for Social Insurance and got me to speak at their national convention once. I told them: there’s this one provision in the law that’s really unfair in the way it’s being administered, having to do with older children who are participating in vocational rehabilitation programs and they’re not being protected like the law requires because of the way that the regulations are written. They changed the regulation.

Richard Weishaupt:
We meet on a quarterly basis with the commissioner of Social Security, who is a wonderful person. She said at a recent meeting, she said, “You know, these people do God’s work.” This is with about 40 of her staff there. She says, “I want you to listen to them.” So, we have a very good relationship with the Social Security Administration, and it means that we don’t have to do as much litigation as we might. I just have to say one thing. When we were leaving the courthouse at the end of Zebley, the then commissioner of Social Security, who was a Philadelphian, turns to Jon Stein — I was being hugged by my mom, who was there — the commissioner says, “You know, if I got to lose a case, this is the case I want to lose.” She did, so her wish came true, too.

Alan Houseman:
Great. So, talk about a couple of places where you’ve done some teaching.

Richard Weishaupt:
Well, let’s see. I co-taught a course with Ed Sparer on public interest law. I’d been a Wasserstein Fellow at Harvard, where you go up and you talk to students about public interest law. It’s a really a good thing to do because the pressure in law school is to push everybody through to the big firms. I have nothing against that route. But I think people need to know that there are other opportunities and careers that are equally exciting and probably more spiritually rewarding. I’ve taught at Temple. There are five law schools in the Greater Philadelphia area, and I think at one point or another I’ve taught at least a little bit at each one of them.

Alan Houseman:
Great. You’ve won a number of awards in your life. I don’t know which of these is the most important, but explain the Reginald Heber Smith Award.

Richard Weishaupt:
Some of these awards came as a result of Zebley. I’d like to think I have more tricks in my bag than just Zebley. Lou Rulli — who I think you’re going to interview later, started with me and became the executive director of Community Legal Services — nominated Jon and I for the Reginald Heber Smith Award. It’s named after one of the godfathers of the legal aid movement in the turn of the last century. It honors the lawyer or lawyers who’ve done the most for legal services in the last year. I got that award, and it was pretty exciting. I was honored by it. I remember Lou gave a little speech, and he said, “Gotham City has its Batman and Robin, and Philadelphia has its Jon Stein and Richard Weishaupt.” I could never figure out, am I Batman or am I Robin? But he wouldn’t say. He wouldn’t play favorites. I guess I’m the younger one.

Alan Houseman:
This is great. Thank you so much, Richard.

Richard Weishaupt:
It’s been a real pleasure. Thanks for thinking of me.