Support for Civil Legal Aid Is Nonpartisan Because Legal Aid Works.

The Trump Administration sent its Fiscal Year 2018 budget proposal to Congress on May The Big 40!23rd.  The proposal calls for the defunding of the Legal Services Corporation (the current appropriation of which amounts to one ten-thousandth of total federal spending).  Granted, presidential budget proposals are opening gambits in the budget negotiation process, and as such reach toward the extremes.  From there, as the actual business of producing a budget gets done the numbers, in normal times and circumstances, tend to settle more reasonably.

But at this time and in these unique political circumstances I remain alarmed that the president proposes destroying a program that works so well, and so efficiently, in making sure Americans can access their own justice system.

The president’s LSC-defunding proposal is completely at odds with well-informed views from just about every corner of the legal community.  Here’s a sampling – including elected Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals and moderates – of those standing up for LSC.  In their own words, they explain how important LSC’s work is to:

  1. serving our country’s veterans, elders and families by giving them a fair shake in the courts
  2. making sure the court systems are unclogged and running smoothly
  3. partnering with the private sector to ensure that non-government support and attorney volunteerism are part of the solution.

LSC Transcends Partisanship Because It Works.

Is LSC worth the 1/10,000th of federal spending that is devoted to it today?  Is there a return on this investment of our tax dollars?  Good questions, both.  The answer, coming from those best positioned to know, is an emphatic “yes.”

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Recent State Legal Aid Funding Awards: DC, NH, WY

Three recent civil legal aid funding award announcements:

Image: Wikimedia Commons
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Washington, DC: “The DC Bar Foundation awarded $615,000 in FY15 DC Legal Services Grants to 22 organizations that provide civil legal services to underserved, low-income residents of the District of Columbia….  Grant money comes from the interest earned on trust accounts, as well as private contributions, primarily through the Call to Action campaign.”  (Media release)

  • The $615K is up from last year, but this revenue stream is still way down in this era of post-recession low interest rates.  Compare the $615K to $600K in 2014, $700K in 2013, and $865 in 2011.  Fortunately DC legal aid providers have also been able to rely on a legislative appropriation to support civil ATJ.

New Hampshire: “New Hampshire Legal Assistance was recently awarded $488,000 from the New Hampshire Bar Foundation’s IOLTA Grants Program to provide civil legal aid services to New Hampshire residents in the coming fiscal year…”  (Patch.comThis $488K is part of a total $800K in IOLTA revenues which the Bar Foundation awarded to providers.

Wyoming: “Equal Justice Wyoming, formerly the Wyoming Center for Legal Aid, recently announced the award of grants to five, nonprofit, legal service providers totaling $852,777 to provide civil legal aid to the low-income people of Wyoming…. Equal Justice received 12 grant proposals requesting more than $1.5 million”  (Casper Journal)

  • The the funding stream here is revenue from court filing fees.  Equal Justice Wyoming is a relatively new creature, having launched by the Wyoming Supreme Court about four years ago to be the statewide grantmaker and to more broadly support the importance of civil legal aid and pro bono.

Shudder to think what the overall legal aid funding picture would look like if the still dreadfully low IOLTA funding streams weren’t bolstered by other funding mechanisms.  And it’s good that states like Wyoming (and its high court) have made supporting legal aid a policy priority.