Congress Slashes Legal Aid Budget

November 21, 2011 | Consumer Affairs |  Link to article

Congress took another bite out of lower-income consumers last week, approving a spending package that includes significant cuts to the Legal Services Corporation, a move that will make it significantly harder for low-income people to access legal aid.

"Legal  aid grantees help low-income people with legal issues regarding foreclosures and evictions,  consumer problems including predatory lending, restraining orders in domestic violence cases, child custody, child support,  bankruptcy and more," said Alan W. Houseman, executive director of CLASP, the Center for Law and Social Policy.

"With the lingering effects of the recession, low-income people's need for legal assistance is growing," Houseman said.

The cuts to LSC are part of a broader appropriations bill or "minibus" that bundles FY 2012 funding for Commerce, Science & Justice, Agriculture, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development.  The bill reduces funding for LSC in FY 2012 to $348 million from $404.19 million this fiscal year. The last time LSC was funded at $348 million was in 2007.

"Funding provided through the Legal Services Corporation is the only way millions of Americans can bring their civil cases - child support and custody decisions, foreclosures and veterans' benefit disputes, for example - to court," said American Bar Association President Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III.

"The ABA will work diligently with Congress to seek restoration of the $56 million in lost - and desperately needed - funding in a future budget year," Robinson said.

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. 

"Reducing funding for LSC curtails people's access to resources to secure equal justice," Houseman said. "The reduced funding for LSC is part and parcel of a larger issue with the direction of our policies. Domestic programs that aid low- and moderate-income people remain a target of deep cuts, yet we continue to punt the question of how to make sure we generate enough revenue to meet the nation's needs. "

LSC is the largest funder of civil legal aid for low-income people.

Already, legal services providers are being forced to lay off staff, make critical programmatic decisions, and even shut their doors.  A cut on the scale included in the minibus would force even more offices to close and many in need of legal help to be turned away.

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