Budget Blueprint 3-16-17
On March 16th, 2017, the Administration’s first crack at a budget proposed to eliminate the Legal Services Corporation.
For decades the ABA has been defending LSC as the embodiment of the federal government’s role in securing the federal rights and duties it created for the people—securing the core American value of equal justice under law.
The LSC has always had bipartisan support in Congress, with polling showing over 80% of Americans supporting equal access to justice that protects the vulnerable.
Sign up to show your support for LSC by visiting the American Bar Association’s www.DefendLegalAid.org website.
BUDGET: The U.S. Senate Budget Committee did not pass a Fiscal Year 2017 Budget, but rather relied upon a budget agreement adopted in 2015 for a total dollar figure for federal expenditures. Thus, there was no mention of any specific appropriations in the Senate’s budget efforts.
APPROPRIATIONS: The Senate Appropriations Committee allocates federal spending among 12 appropriations bills.
The U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies marked up and passed by voice vote (without controversy) the CJS bill that funds the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) on April 19, 2016.
The full U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee quickly followed suit with a unanimous vote for passage on April 21, 2016.
The Senate CJS bill would fund LSC at $395 million—a $10 million increase over the current year’s funding of $385 million.
For FY2016, the Senate bill had LSC at $385 million—$10 million less than the FY2017 bill.
The Senate CJS FY2017 bill was included in a Continuing Resolution at $385 million, minus an across-the-board cut of 0.019%, which affected other programs equally.
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
BUDGET: On March 16, 2016, the U.S. House of Representatives Budget Committee passed a FY2017 Budget that called for the complete elimination of LSC.
APPROPRIATIONS: The U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies marked up and passed by unanimous voice vote (without controversy) the FY2017 bill funding LSC on May 18, 2016.
The House bill would have funded LSC at $350 million—a $35 million decrease from the current year’s funding of $385 million.
For FY2016, the House bill had LSC at $300 million—$50 million less than the FY2017 bill.
The House CJS FY2017 bill was included in a Continuing Resolution at $385 million, minus an across-the-board cut of 0.019%, which affected other programs equally.
The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) ensures “Equal Justice Under Law” by enabling access to the justice system for vulnerable Americans. LSC, the central foundation for the legal aid system, provides the backbone for America’s civil legal aid and pro bonosystem. 93.7% of LSC’s total budget is awarded in grants to 133 civil legal aid programs with over 800 offices nationwide. At least one LSC grantee is present in each county and territory of the United States.
Funding and Need
LSC funding is down. The current Fiscal Year 2017 LSC appropriation is already 17.7% lower than it was in 2010 (inflation adjusted). Compare LSC’s $385 million (minus 0.019%) in Fiscal Year 2017 to LSC’s average $664 million (inflation adjusted) in the 1980s.
The need is up. Over the past decade, the number of people qualifying for assistance has increased about 25%.
Legal-services needs far exceed LSC appropriations. Because funding is down and needs are up, studies indicate 50-80% of clients are turned away due to a lack of resources.
Clients and Services
Annually LSC grantees provide direct services to nearly 1.9 million people in all households served. These constituents struggle to get by on incomes at or below 125% of federal poverty guidelines. According to the Census Bureau’s latest figures, over 95.2 million Americans—one in three—qualified for civil legal aid at some point in 2014.
Several groups in particular are beneficiaries of legal aid services: veterans, domestic violence survivors, aging populations, rural populations, women (constituting 70% of clients), and natural-disaster victims.
LSC’s legal aid grantees routinely help these people with family law matters (custody, domestic violence, support, guardianship, name change, adoption), housing matters (subsidized housing, renters, natural-disaster displacement, foreclosures, realty), income maintenance (food stamps, Social Security, disability, unemployment, veterans benefits), and consumer issues (collections, bankruptcy, debtor relief, contracts, warrantees, deceptive practices).
LSC is the framework through which most pro bono services are delivered. Pro bono work totaled 10.7% of cases closed in 2014 (highest % ever), up from 6.5% in 2008. In many rural areas, there are not enough lawyers to provide pro bono assistance. LSC increases pro bono efficiency with its Pro Bono Innovation Fund (PBIF), first funded in FY2014. The 80,000+ pro bonocases annually are critical but totally insufficient to replace federal LSC funding.
Numerous cost-benefit analyses demonstrate the valuable return on investment that LSC provides. For example, in March 2015 the Tennessee Bar Association published a new report entitled “Economic Impact of Civil Legal Aid Organizations in Tennessee.” The report and chart reveal $11.21 of economic benefit per dollar invested.
Benefits accrue from the likes of preventing foreclosure and domestic violence. These accomplishments are measureable public goods. The savings for the communities, the direct client and family benefits, and the well-recognized economic-multiplier effect guarantee the value received for LSC appropriations.
The American Bar Association provides a webpage resource that lists the studies.
Government programs commonly work best when they leverage other funds. Many programs require an equal matching amount of money from nonfederal sources—a 1:1 ratio. The LSC does much better. For LSC, the federal expenditure amounts to 25% of all legal aid funding in the US—a 3:1 ratio. The federal appropriation leverages three times that amount by accessing alternative funding, such as Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (IOLTA) funds, state/local grants, foundations, contributions, and individual donations and by engaging pro bono partners.
Example of the Fruit of LSC Funding
Nicole Perez, an attorney with Legal Aid of Los Angeles, spent a year and a half saving an elderly disabled widow of a Vietnam veteran from foreclosure. The elderly woman’s husband had suffered from the effects of Agent Orange poisoning, but had been denied benefits. Nicole and her colleagues successfully blocked the forced sale of the house and managed to get the $45,000 in retroactive benefits and nearly $1,500 in ongoing monthly payments from the VA, ensuring the elderly widow would be financially secure in her home.
The ABA supports strong federal funding for LSC.
- Demand is up about 25% over the past decade, but funding is down 17.7% since 2010.
- 50-80% of clients are turned away due to a lack of resources.
- Pro bono work is nowhere near a substitute for federal legal aid funding.
- Numerous cost-benefit analyses demonstrate LSC’ valuable return on the federal investment.
- LSC effectively leverages federal appropriations, obtaining 300% as much from nonfederal sources.
- The federal government is instituted to secure people's rights under federal law, on which legal aid attorneys work every day. Polling shows over 80% of people are convinced that LSC grantees' self-help centers and legal services assistance level the playing field and protect the vulnerable by enabling equal access to the justice system. Federal funding must not be withheld. States and localities should not be burdened with an unfunded mandate for equal justice.
- Legal aid attorneys help constituents secure their federal rights, taking some difficult cases off the plates of Congressional caseworkers--a role complementary to and often more complex than the casework typically performed by 2 or 3 staffers in each Congressional office.
Teleconference on Funding for LSC
During this teleconference ABA Day participants had the opportunity to hear more about the Legal Services Corporation from Justice Nathan L. Hecht, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas, James J. Sandman, President of the Legal Services Corporation, and Eric S. Fins, Senior Legislative Assistant to Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy, III.
To access a recording of this teleconference, click here.
The next teleconference will be uploaded here as soon as available.
The ABA supports a strong, federally funded, community controlled program to provide legal aid for the poor. The ABA favors substantial private bar involvement in the delivery of legal services and actively encourages pro bono participation by individual attorneys, law firms, and corporate general counsels.