ABA cites critical need for more funding

The House Appropriations Committee unanimously approved a draft fiscal year 2012 funding bill that includes $300 million for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) – a $104 million reduction for the program.

The corporation predicted that, if the cuts are enacted, LSC-funded programs across the country will have to turn away approximately 235,000 low-income Americans seeking civil legal assistance.

“LSC works for millions of American across the country each year,” ABA President Stephen N. Zack said, emphasizing that the tough economy is flooding legal aid offices with new clients facing serious legal problems for which they cannot afford to hire a lawyer. In addition, he said that parts of the country have been devastated by natural disasters in the past few months, and LSC cuts will decimate the operations of the local legal aid providers who normally step in to help in these situations.

In a July 7 letter to committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-Key.), ABA President-elect Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III focused on the impact of the proposed cuts in his home state of Kentucky, where four LSC grantees receiving a total of $6.3 million last year closed more than 19,000 cases. Those assisted by the grantees include veterans returning from combat, domestic violence victims, individuals undergoing foreclosure or other housing issues, and families involved in child custody disputes. Reducing LSC appropriations funding by $100 million, Robinson said, would result in a cut of nearly $1.6 million in Kentucky LSC funding.

Robinson also stressed that other funding sources for legal aid have diminished due to the current economy, noting that revenue from Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (IOLTA) – a major source of funds in every state and the District of Columbia – has fallen drastically.

He explained that, despite best efforts, pro bono work cannot replace LSC funding for civil legal services. Because LSC provides the infrastructure for pro bono systems, Robinson said that reducing funding for legal services grantees would impede attorneys from providing pro bono assistance.

Fiscal year 2012 begins Oct. 1 of this year, and the bill approved by the committee is one of 12 appropriations bills being drafted to fund the federal government. The next step is consideration by the full House.

 

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