Congress Increases LSC Funds and Eliminates Attorneys’ Fees Restriction

December 10, 2009 |  |  Link to article

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.

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