In Focus

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).

 

Apr 23, 2012  |  PERMALINK »

The President Gives Full Support to Restoring Civil Legal Aid Funding

By Alan W. Houseman

This post updates a previous post from April 18.

In the last year, it's unfortunately gotten much tougher for low-income individuals and families to access legal aid services as a result of Congress cutting funding for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) from $402 million to $348 million in FY 2012. With 8.6 million families living in poverty, these cuts have real impacts. Legal aid programs help low-income individuals and families navigate civil issues like child custody, domestic violence, and home foreclosures. These programs also help individuals access public benefits like unemployment insurance and health insurance.

As a result of LSC's reduced funding, legal aid programs reduced attorneys by 13.3 percent, paralegals by 15.4 percent and administrative staff by 12.7 percent. Programs will likely close 24 offices in 2012, many of them in rural areas, and the LSC funded civil legal aid program will serve 81,000 fewer low-income Americans.

The President wants this reversed. On Tuesday, at a White House Forum on the State of Civil Legal Assistance, President Obama pledged his full support to increasing funding for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC). His FY 2013 budget would restore funding to the $402 million level.  

Also on Tuesday, the first Congressional step in the process of restoring that funding began. The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS) marked up the FY 2013 appropriations bill for agencies under its jurisdiction. The $51.862 billion measure includes $402 million for the Legal Services Corporation, matching the Administration's FY 2013 request. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), ranking member of the subcommittee, supported the increase. On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the CJS funding bill.

Unfortunately, the House may not follow the Senate in restoring funding to LSC. On Thursday,
the House CJS Subcommittee marked up its FY 2013 appropriations bill, recommending $328 million in FY 2013 funding for LSC.  The Committee is expected to take up the House CJS bill this week.

Reducing funding again for LSC would result in additional staff lay-offs and even fewer clients served. Restoration of LSC funding from the 2011 level is absolutely essential but not nearly enough. Civil legal aid programs turned away at least as many clients that they served in 2011 and will turn away even more in 2012.  Just to restore funding to the level it would have been at in 1980 dollars (when the program reached its high water mark in funding) would require over $800 million, not the $402 million that the Senate Subcommittee set.

CLASP will continue to advocate for adequate funding for critical legal aid programs, which help so many families in need of assistance. The President's commitment and the Senate's markup are important steps in this process. 

Feb 13, 2012  |  PERMALINK »

President Proposes to Restore Civil Legal Aid Funding, But More Is Needed

The Budget released by the President on Monday recommends a budget level of $402 million, a $54 million increase over FY 2012, for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC).  This increase would be targeted solely toward direct funds to civil legal aid programs and would fully restore the funding that was cut from those programs in 2012. This is a positive step forward.

Civil legal aid programs help low-income people and supportive groups navigate various civil matters like housing evictions, home foreclosures, predatory lending, child support, custody, domestic violence. They also help people access government benefits like Social Security, disability, unemployment insurance, food stamps, and health insurance. Without the services of a lawyer, low-income people with civil-legal problems may have no practical way of protecting their rights and advancing their interests.

Since coming into office, President Obama has supported increases in LSC funding.  He has also supported eliminating some of the onerous restrictions imposed on LSC programs in 1996.  The 2012 Budget also recommends eliminating the restriction prohibiting civil legal aid programs funded by LSC from bringing or participating in class action suits.

The restoration of funding for civil legal aid programs would help preventing further erosion of access to justice for low-income persons needing civil legal aid. Since 2011, LSC funded programs have reduced attorneys by 13.3 percent, paralegals by 15.4 percent and administrative staff by 12.7 percent. Programs will likely close 24 offices in 2012, many of them in rural areas. As a result, the LSC-funded civil legal aid program will serve 81,000 fewer low-income Americans.  These reductions come at a time when there is a substantial increase in those eligible for civil legal aid and an increase in such critical problems as housing foreclosure, unemployment, domestic violence and issues facing military Veterans.    

Restoration of LSC funding from the 2011 level is not nearly enough. Civil legal aid programs turned away at least as many clients that they served in 2011 and will turn away even more in 2012.  Funding over time for the program continues to erode. In fact, if funding today were at the same level as in 1980 (in inflation-adjusted dollar), it would be $800 million, nearly double the $402 million the president has proposed for FY 2013.

Access to justice for those who cannot afford legal assistance is an essential right in a modern industrial country. As Congress declared when it created LSC in the Legal Services Corporation Act of 1974:  "providing legal assistance to those who face an economic barrier to adequate legal counsel will serve the best ends of justice and assist in improving opportunities for low-income person" and will "reaffirm faith in our government of laws."    

 

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