LSC cut by $15.8 million
President Obama signed a compromise bill April 15 to fund the rest of fiscal year 2011, approving an estimated $38 billion in reductions in discretionary non-defense spending and setting the stage for the upcoming debate on fiscal year 2012 appropriations.
P.L. 112-10 (H.R. 1473) encompasses all 12 appropriations bills to provide funding through Sept. 30, 2011, for federal programs. The federal government has been functioning on continuing resolutions as Congress and the Obama administration negotiated a compromise that averted a governmental shutdown.
After an initial proposal to cut $70 million from the Legal Services Corporation’s current funding of $420 million, strong advocacy by the ABA and other organizations prevented the severe reduction, bringing the cut down to $15.8 million. The final funding level is $404.2 million – a 3.8 percent decrease.
The ABA highlighted the LSC appropriations issue as a priority for ABA Day in Washington, the association’s annual lobbying days held April 12-14.
“Those benefiting from LSC-funded programs are among the most vulnerable Americans, including veterans returning from combat, domestic violence victims, those coping with the after-effects of natural disasters, families involved in child custody disputes, people with disabilities, and individuals undergoing foreclosures or other housing issues,” ABA President Stephen N. Zack and bar leaders from the 50 states and the District of Columbia, local bar associations and national bars of color emphasized to members of the House and Senate in an April 8 letter.
The bar leaders explained that due to economic conditions, the number of people who qualify for legal services is at an all-time high, with more than 63 million Americans, including 22 million children, now eligible for civil legal assistance. As one in two eligible clients is turned away because of lack of resources, LSC-funded legal aid programs are seeing revenue from Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts decreasing and state and private contributors struggling with budget issues. In addition, LSC provides the framework and infrastructure for pro bono efforts that will diminish without sufficient resources.
Looking ahead to fiscal year 2012 funding, Zack asked the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies to approve at least $450 million for the LSC -- the same amount requested by President Obama.
Meanwhile, LSC President Jim Sandman and LSC Board member Robert J. Grey Jr. asked the subcommittee to provide $516.5 million for the program. They explained that, in addition to providing $484.9 million for grants to provide civil legal assistance, the budget request proposes $6.8 million for technology grants that improve access to legal assistance and self-help guides, $1 million for student loan repayment assistance to legal aid lawyers, $19.5 million for management and grants oversight, and $4.35 million for the Office of Inspector General.
“These are hard times for low-income American,” Sandman said. “Requests for assistance are increasing, and the poverty population is growing.”