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Letter Supporting Increased Funding for Legal Aid

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June 9, 2015

By Email

Mr. David Richardson
Treasurer
Legal Services Corporation
3333 K Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20007
david.richardson@lsc.gov

Re:  Comments on Legal Services Corporation FY 2017 budget request

Dear Mr. Richardson:

As the Legal Services Corporation prepares its budget request for the 2017 fiscal year, Washington Council of Lawyers writes to highlight the need for increased funding to address the escalating demands on over-burdened and under-resourced civil legal services.

Washington Council of Lawyers is a nonprofit organization committed to the spirit and practice of law in the public interest. Founded in 1971, Washington Council of Lawyers is the area’s only voluntary bar association dedicated exclusively to promoting pro bono and public interest law. Our members represent every sector of the Washington legal community: lawyers and pro bono coordinators from large and small law firms and law schools; lawyers from public interest groups, government agencies and congressional offices; and law students and members of law-related professions. We share a common concern for the well-being of our community and the integrity of our civil and constitutional rights.

As LSC celebrates its 40th anniversary, the unmet legal needs of those who are poor and marginalized are staggering. In just the last 5 years, LSC has seen its funding decline 18.65%. In our judgment, the levels of LSC funding are woefully inadequate for the current need. We believe LSC funding should be increased to meet the increasing demands for legal services. In particular, we support LSC in seeking more funding for three critical programs: Field Grants, Technology Initiative Grants, and Pro Bono Innovation Grants.

Field Grants. The Field Grants provide essential core funding to the basic field programs that most effectively and efficiently provide high-quality legal representation to eligible clients. LSC’s Field Grants anchor LSC funding;  they promote justice and facilitate real impacts on client lives. Without adequate funding for basic field programs, LSC cannot fulfill its mission of providing access to justice for our nation’s low-income population.

Technology Initiative Grants & Pro Bono Innovation Grants. Since 2000, the Technology Initiative Grant program has funded more than 570 legal technology projects, allowing LSC grantees to expand the delivery of legal aid services through statewide websites, better case management systems, and other innovative methods. (See LSC Fiscal Year Budget Request 2016, http://www.lsc.gov/media/press-releases/lsc-fiscal-year-2016-budget-request-sent-congress).

On January 17, 2014, the President of the United States signed P.L. 113-76, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014, which included $2.5 million for LSC to establish a new grant making program called the Pro Bono Innovation Fund. On December 16, 2014, the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015, Public Law 113-235 increased LSC’s appropriation for the Pro Bono Innovation Fund to $4 million. This program has enabled LSC to engage more lawyers in pro bono service and address gaps in legal service and persistent challenges in pro bono delivery systems.  (See 2014 Pro Bono Innovation Fund Grantees, http://grants.lsc.gov/apply-for-funding/pro-bono-innovation-fund/2014-pro-bono-innovation-fund-grantees).

The Technology Initiative Grant program and Pro Bono Innovation Grants demonstrate LSC’s capacity to react quickly to issues that threaten access to justice by finding ways to help make legal service providers more effective and make better use of legal services funding. Expansion of the Technology Initiative Grant and Pro Bono Innovation Fund programs will bring the benefits of these improvements to even more people.

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LSC grantees are dedicated legal professionals who struggle to fulfill their critical mission in a climate of increased need and decreased funding. We urge the Administration and Congress to carefully consider the FY 2017 LSC budget request to ensure that legal services offices do not fall further behind in their ability to meet the critical demand for civil legal services for those who are poor.

Thank you for your consideration of our comments.

Sincerely yours,

Paul S. Lee
President
Washington Council of Lawyers