Legal Services Corporation Funding for 2012: Uncertainty and Concern About Proposed Reductions
Jun 14, 2011
Congress and the White House are engaged in deficit reduction discussions that could do great harm to programs that serve members of the low-income community. It should be a fundamental principle that deficit reduction should be designed in ways that protect low-income people. This principle was incorporated into the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform report released in late 2010, and it has been included in prior deficit reduction laws adopted by Congress. Yet, the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) is facing worrisomely drastic cuts that would have big impacts on the number of low-income people who receive basic legal assistance.
LSC is the federal program that funds local legal aid societies to provide representation in civil cases to low-income people.
Concern abounds regarding LSC funding for FY 2012, which will begin on Oct. 1, 2011. FY 2011 funding totals $404.19 million, which represents a $15.81 million cut from LSC's FY 2010 funding level of $420 million. The House and Senate adopted this amount after the House passed an FY 2011 Continuing Resolution (CR) that would have cut $70 million for LSC from its FY 2010 level, and reduced LSC's funding to FY 2008 levels. Under the House version of the CR, all of the $70 million cut would have come out of LSC's basic field grants that support the 136 legal aid programs providing basic legal assistance to low-income people across the country.
LSC has asked Congress to appropriate $516.5 million for FY 2012. President Obama's budget request sought $450 million for LSC. However, during the April 5, 2011, hearing of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS) on the FY 2012 LSC budget, there was again discussion of returning LSC funding to the FY 2008 level -- all in the name of deficit reduction. The FY 2012 House budget resolution (the Ryan Bill), which proposes $6 trillion in overall budget cuts over 10 years and an overhaul of entitlement programs, did not include any specific cuts for LSC or other agencies, but also suggested that funding of discretionary programs should be cut to FY 2008 levels.
Subcommittee mark-up on the House 2012 CJS bill is scheduled for July 7, followed by full committee mark-up on July 13. We anticipate that the House will cut LSC's overall FY 2012 budget to its FY 2008 level of $340.49 million. However, it is not clear whether this budget will follow the FY 2008 allocation among LSC's programs and divisions, providing approximately $332.4 million for basic field grant funding, or will do as was proposed in House version of the 2011 CR and take all of the cuts out of the funds allocated to basic field grants, leaving only $324.4 million for basic field grant funding. If the funding is allocated as it was under the FY 2008 distribution, funding for basic field grants would be reduced by 13.91percent from FY 2011 levels. If all of the cuts are taken from basic field funding, funding for basic field grants would be reduced by 14.33 percent from FY 2011 levels. The difference translates to an additional cut of $8 million for basic field grants.
LSC basic field funding is allocated on the basis of census counts of the poverty population in the service area. For areas with large low-income populations, like Puerto Rico and New York, this means a difference of several hundred thousand dollars in LSC funds. Programs in California would lose over a million dollars. Even smaller states such as Rhode Island, Montana, or South Dakota would sustain tens of thousands of dollars in additional losses. Every state would lose at least some additional LSC funds under the House 2011 CR formulation.
We are working hard to increase the LSC funding level in the Senate, and we are hopeful that the Senate will adopt a funding level close to the President's request of $450 million. However, the Senate has scheduled no appropriations subcommittee or committee mark-ups, since the Senate budget Committee Chairman, Kent Conrad (D-ND), is awaiting recommendations from the bipartisan working group led by Vice President Biden.
We will keep you informed about developments on the Hill as they evolve. However, given the slow pace of events to date, and the need for Congress to act to raise the debt ceiling before August 2, followed by the August Congressional recess, we do not anticipate any conclusive action on LSC's FY 2012 funding before September.