By Christina Jackson
The White House’s $1.15 trillion budget calls for the defunding or eliminating a variety of programs and agencies, including the Legal Services Corporation. We previously reported on responses from LSC and its supporters.
Other groups are joining chorus calling on Congress to fully fund LSC. Some recent highlights:
Leaders of 185 corporate legal departments from a variety of industries—including technology, pharmaceutical, media, entertainment, retail, and manufacturing—urged Congress to maintain LSC’s funding at $450 million (essentially the same amount it received in fiscal year 2010 adjusted for inflation, albeit $52 million less than LSC’s FY 2017 budget request).
- Top in-house lawyers said that the “minimal investment in LSC generates a significant positive return for business and the health of individuals and communities across the nation.”
- The agency creates a “level playing field” for many lower- and moderate-income families who cannot afford a lawyer.
- The LSC’s national framework, they added, provides the basic structure for civil legal services and “supports the countless hours of pro bono representation provided by corporate legal departments and in-house attorneys.” (Law.com)
Law School Deans
More than 160 law school deans wrote to congressional leaders and urged them to maintain LSC’s funding:
LSC-funded providers serve millions of low-income Americans who could not otherwise afford legal representation . . . . These providers help people who live in households with annual incomes at or below 125% of the federal poverty guidelines, a category that includes almost one in five Americans. The cases involve some of the most difficult, life-changing circumstances a person can face.
This follows an earlier letter sent by 25 Catholic law deans to White House budget director Mick Mulvaney.
After learning that the Trump administration was considering killing LSC funding, the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court administrators wrote to wrote to White House budget director Mulvaney:
We write on behalf of the Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) and the Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA) in response to a recent report that the Office of Management and Budget is considering recommending to Congress the elimination of funding for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) in fiscal year 2018. Without a doubt, the elimination or reduction of the LSC’s appropriation would have tragic consequences. The LSC enables thousands of citizens across our land to obtain competent legal services in matters involving basic human needs, such as relief from natural disasters, protection from domestic violence, securing veteran benefits, and maintaining habitable housing. For reasons stated below, the Conferences urge OMB to promote stable and adequate funding of the LSC rather than a defunding.
. . .
The Conference of Chief Justices in 2013 released a data-rich policy paper entitled, “The Importance of Funding for the Legal Services Corporation from the Perspective of the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators.” Our research makes clear that the large number of unrepresented citizens overwhelming the nation’s courts has negative consequences not only for them but also for the effectiveness and efficiency of courts striving to serve these and other segments of the community who need their disputes resolved. More staff time is required to assist unrepresented parties. In the absence of a fair presentation of relevant facts, court procedures are slowed, backlogs of other court cases occur, and judges confront the challenge of maintaining their impartiality while preventing injustice. Clearly frontline judges are telling us that the adversarial foundation of our justice system is all too often losing its effectiveness when citizens are deprived of legal counsel. Given these facts on the ground, we hope you will support our struggle to increase the availability of legal assistance to the most-needy members of our communities lest we further compromise our nation’s promise of “equal justice under law.”
In addition, all seven justices of the Montana Supreme Court, along with eight retired members, are calling on Congress to continue funding LSC as well as the Corporation for National and Community Service. The justices did so in a letter to U.S. Senators Steve Daines and Jon Tester.
Reports show how legal aid boosts the economy
According to a report from Maine’s Justice Action Group, in 2015 civil legal aid expanded Maine’s economy by more than $105 million. That included $13 million in federal benefits reaching people in need, $7 million in child and spousal support recovered by families, $6 million in earnings paid to immigrants who obtained the right to work, and $2.5 million less spending on homeless shelters as a result of tenants avoiding eviction.
Meanwhile, in Florida every dollar spent on civil legal aid creates $7 in economic returns, according to a study commissioned by the Florida Bar Foundation. Among other gains, legal aid helps low-income people obtain federal benefits, and that money is then spent in Florida. Legal aid also saves money for governments that don’t have to provide emergency shelter because of help provided to tenants and low-income homeowners, and saves money for the homeowners and lenders who avoid foreclosure costs. The ABA Journal has more on the study.
Become a #LegalAidDefender!
You too can help save legal aid. Sign up to be a Legal Aid Defender, and the ABA will deliver your personalized Defender card and message to your Member of Congress. Don’t forget to call your Senators and representative and urge them to fund LSC for FY18 and beyond. And you can read about more support for LSC funding in news articles collected by Voices for Civil Justice.
Christina Jackson (@CJacksonPSJD) is co-chair of our Issues Committee and Director of Public Service Initiatives for NALP.