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 134 civil legal aid programs with over 800 offices nationwide. At least one LSC grantee is present in each of the fifty states.
Funding and Need
LSC funding is down. The current Fiscal Year 2016 LSC appropriation is still 15.7% lower than it was in 2010 (inflation adjusted), even after three consecutive appropriation increases of 5.4%, 2.6%, and 2.6%. Compare LSC’s $385 million in Fiscal Year 2016 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. In 2016, federal poverty levels are $11,880 for an individual and $24,300 for a family of four. 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: military and veterans, older Americans, rural Americans, women (constituting nearly 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 bonoservices 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 increasespro 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.
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 and recommends that Congress appropriate the President’s budget request of $475 million for LSC for Fiscal Year 2017.
- Demand is up about 25% over the past decade, but funding is down 15.7% 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.
See the tab at the right for links the general ABA One-Pager on LSC Funding and other resources.
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 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.