In Focus

Jul 15, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

Bills End Some Restrictions on LSC Funds

By Linda E. Perle

CLASP has been working since January 2007 in a coalition to eliminate language in the LSC Appropriations Act that applies multiple restrictions not just to LSC funds, but to all of the funds that LSC grantees receive, regardless of their source.  Since 1996, all of LSC grantees' funds, including those from state and local governments, Interest on Lawyers Trust Account (IOLTA) programs, United Ways, private foundations, state and local bar associations, and individual and corporate donations, have been subject to the same restrictions as those that apply to funds appropriated by Congress for LSC.  

These include restrictions that limit the tools that legal aid lawyers can use to fully represent their clients, including participation in class actions, seeking and receiving attorneys' fees, and legislative and administrative advocacy.  They prohibit representation of many financially eligible clients, including most undocumented and many documented immigrants, prisoners, and public housing residents who are being evicted after being charged with certain drug offenses.

In April 2009, Senator Harkin introduced a bill to reauthorize the Legal Services Corporation.  CLASP worked closely with Senator Harkin's staff in crafting the bill which updates the LSC Act, last amended in 1977, authorizes $750 million in funding for LSC, and eliminates most of the Appropriations Act restrictions, including the language that applies the restrictions to grantees' non-LSC funds.   A companion Bill was introduced in the House in October 2009 that is very similar to the Harkin Bill.  It also authorizes $750 million, but it goes somewhat further than the Harkin Bill in eliminating restrictions.

In May 2009, the President Obama's budget recommended that Congress appropriate $435 million for LSC for FY 2010, eliminate all of the restrictions on non-LSC funds, and remove the class action and attorneys' fees restriction on LSC funds.  These recommendations were consistent with those made by the LSC Transition team, headed by CLASP's Executive Director, Alan Houseman.  

In June 2009, the House passed the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS) Bill which included $440 million for LSC, but did not eliminate the non-LSC funds restriction.   The House bill did eliminate the restriction on attorneys' fees for all LSC grantee funds.  In early November 2009 the Senate adopted its version of the CJS bill that included only $400 million for LSC but eliminated all of the restrictions on non-LSC funds with the exception of the restrictions on prisoner representation and abortion.  The Senate has named its conferees and we expect the House to name their conferees shortly. We are working to ensure that the conference bill includes funding at or close to the amount in the House bill and adopts the Senate position on restrictions. 

Dec 10, 2009  |  PERMALINK »

Congress Increases LSC Funds and Eliminates Attorneys’ Fees Restriction

By Linda E. Perle

Congress adopted an Omnibus Appropriations Act that included funding for LSC for 2010.  The Act appropriated $420 million, which was a $30 million or 8 percent increase over the 2009 funding level of $390 million.

Background

CLASP has been working since January 2007 in a coalition to eliminate language in the LSC Appropriations Act that applies multiple restrictions not just to LSC funds, but to all of the funds that LSC grantees receive, regardless of their source.  Since 1996, all of LSC grantees' funds, including those from state and local governments, Interest on Lawyers Trust Account (IOLTA) programs, United Ways, private foundations, state and local bar associations, and individual and corporate donations, have been subject to the same restrictions as those that apply to funds appropriated by Congress for LSC.  

These include restrictions that limit the tools that legal aid lawyers can use to fully represent their clients, including participation in class actions, seeking and receiving attorneys' fees, and legislative and administrative advocacy.  They prohibit representation of many financially eligible clients, including most undocumented and many documented immigrants, prisoners, and public housing residents who are being evicted after being charged with certain drug offenses.

In April 2009, Senator Harkin introduced a bill to reauthorize the Legal Services Corporation.  CLASP worked closely with Senator Harkin's staff in crafting the bill which updates the LSC Act, last amended in 1977, authorizes $750 million in funding for LSC, and eliminates most of the Appropriations Act restrictions, including the language that applies the restrictions to grantees' non-LSC funds.   A companion Bill was introduced in the House in October 2009 that is very similar to the Harkin Bill.  It also authorizes $750 million, but it goes somewhat further than the Harkin Bill in eliminating restrictions.

In May 2009, the President Obama's budget recommended that Congress appropriate $435 million for LSC for FY 2010, eliminate all of the restrictions on non-LSC funds, and remove the class action and attorneys' fees restriction on LSC funds.  These recommendations were consistent with those made by the LSC Transition team, headed by CLASP's Executive Director, Alan Houseman.  

In June 2009, the House passed the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS) Bill which included $440 million for LSC, but did not eliminate the non-LSC funds restriction.   The House bill did eliminate the restriction on attorneys' fees for all LSC grantee funds.  In early November 2009 the Senate adopted its version of the CJS bill that included only $400 million for LSC but eliminated all of the restrictions on non-LSC funds with the exception of the restrictions on prisoner representation and abortion. 

In December, Congress adopted an Omnibus Appropriations Act that included funding for LSC for 2010.  The Act appropriated $420 million, which was a $30 million or 8% increase over the 2009 funding level of $390 million.  Despite the ongoing efforts of CLASP and the other members of its coalition, Congress did not adopt the Senate approach to the restrictions on non-LSC funds.  Instead the Omnibus Act adopted the House approach, eliminating only the restriction on seeking attorneys' fees, although the change applied to both LSC and non-LSC funds.

Sep 24, 2012  |  PERMALINK »

Civil Legal Aid in Jeopardy

By Alan W. Houseman

For years, low-income people have struggled with a huge gap between their legal needs and the capacity of the civil legal assistance system to meet those needs.

Last year, Congress reduced funding for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) from $402 million in 2011 to $348 million in 2012. In response, LSC-funded programs reduced attorneys by 12.5 percent, paralegals by 17.4 percent and administrative staff by 12.7 percent. Programs closed 29 offices in 2012, many of them in rural areas where it can be particularly difficult for individuals to find alternative assistance. As a result, the LSC-funded civil legal aid program served 81,000 fewer low-income Americans.

As reported in February, the President's 2013 budget proposed to restore LSC funding to the 2011 level. But because Congress hasn't passed a full FY2013 budget, the Continuing Resolution finalized last week will fund LSC at $350 million. This doesn't mean that LSC is safe from further cuts, though. According to the Report of OMB on Sequestration, LSC will lose another $29 million in January if Sequestration goes into effect.

The automatic, across-the-board cuts set to begin on January 2, 2013, by the sequester were intended to be a blunt and indiscriminate instrument that would inspire both parties to negotiate a compromise on a deficit reduction plan.  Another $29 million in cuts to LSC would be very damaging.  We hope the stark reality of sequestration, which has been widely understood as a negotiating tool and not a plan to be implemented, will have the effect of driving both political parties to compromise on a balanced approach to deficit reduction so the country can avoid the serious consequences of these cuts. 

Both the funding level provided in the Continuing Resolution and the lower level required if Sequestration goes into effect are totally inadequate. Civil legal aid programs will turn away at least as many clients as they served in 2012 and will turn away even more in 2013.  To keep civil legal aid a viable program that can adequately serve people in need, the program should obtain funding of at least $800 million, the level it would have been in 1980 dollars (when the program reached its high water mark in funding).

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