Congress Makes Disastrous Cuts to Legal Services

Nov 16, 2011

By Linda E. Perle

House and Senate conferees on Monday agreed to slash funding for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) by nearly 14 percent.

The agreement reduced funding for LSC in 2012 to $348 million from $404.19 million in 2011. The last time LSC was funded at $348 million was in 2007.

The effect that this reduction will have on LSC grantees and the community of clients that they serve is immeasurable.  In light of the crippling economic crisis that the country is facing, the need for legal assistance for low-income people is burgeoning, while at the same time legal services providers are being forced to lay off staff, close offices, and make critical programmatic decisions.  Access to justice is vital, and this draconian cut is devastating to our nation's promise of justice for all.

The entire cut is designated to come from basic field programs, which means LSC grantees providing legal assistance to low-income clients would see a cut to their grants amounting to 14.8 percent.  LSC's Management and Grants oversight and Office of Inspector General budgets would remain at the same funding level as in 2011 

For FY 2012, funding for LSC is part of the "minibus" that bundled together the appropriations for Commerce, Science & Justice, Agriculture, and Transportation-HUD. LSC is currently funded at $398.1 million under a Continuing Resolution (CR) that expires on November 18.  The House had proposed $300 million in 2012 funding for LSC, while the Senate had recommended $396.1 million. 

LSC is a casualty of partisan differences of how our federal resources should be allocated. Lawmakers who are LSC supporter pushed to provide funding for LSC at a level closer to the Senate figure of $396.1 million. But House leadership argued that a higher figure would be unacceptable to the Republican caucus, some of whom wished to eliminate LSC.  Since the conference report is not amendable, some expressed concern that holding out for higher LSC funding would derail the entire measure. 

Both House and Senate appropriations committee leadership were anxious to pass this first "minibus" as a vehicle for a second CR to fund the rest of the government and a signal that other appropriations bills would be passed before mid-December when the second CR will expire.  The conferees had other priorities for which they were fighting, and ultimately  decided that rather than bringing down the entire bill over LSC, they would "split the difference" between the House and Senate number for LSC funding.  The Conference Report will be voted on before the current CR expires on November 18.

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