ACCESS TO LEGAL SERVICES
Increase Funding for the Legal Services Corporation
The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) is the nation’s largest provider of civil legal aid for low-income Americans, and LSC grantees serve every congressional district in the United States. In 2019, LSC directly benefited over 1.8 million people in all households served, including veterans, individuals in rural communities, aging Americans, disaster victims, victims of the opioid epidemic, women (who are over 71% of clients), and many others. Furthermore, LSC has helped many low-income Americans address their life-altering civil legal needs caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The ABA has advocated vigorously over the years for increased and robust LSC funding. These efforts during the 116th Congress were successful and helped boost LSC funding by $50 million, despite the Administration’s repeated calls to eliminate LSC and opposition from some Members of Congress. After a record number of Senators and Representatives signed bipartisan letters of support, Congress increased LSC funding to $465 million for FY 2021, a 5.7% increase over the previous fiscal year. Congressional recognition of the program’s value was validated again with the passage of the 2020 CARES Act, which provided LSC with an additional $50 million of supplemental emergency funding to address the additional civil legal needs of low-income Americans caused by the pandemic.
During the 117th Congress, GAO will continue to build and expand coalitions of support and seek innovative ways to explain the need for LSC to secure as high a level of funding as possible for FY 2022 and FY 2023.
Support Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which provides protections for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and dating violence, requires reauthorization every five years by Congress. The Act also provides funding for social service agencies and programs that support survivors of such violence, which must be renewed annually.
Authorization for VAWA expired on December 21, 2018. The 116th Congress did not reauthorize the statute because of disagreement over the inclusion of new substantive provisions intended to strengthen protections for victims of violence, but it has continued to fund programs under VAWA designed to help victims. It is especially important to strengthen and fund domestic violence prevention programs now because of the additional strains on families and relationships caused by the pandemic. The ABA has supported VAWA since its enactment in 1994 and will vigorously support its reauthorization and full funding in the 117th Congress.
Expand Broadband Access for Rural America
Over 20 million rural Americans lack adequate and affordable high-speed internet access -- commonly referred to as broadband – which also impedes their access to justice and legal services. The unavailability of broadband deters lawyers from setting up offices in rural towns, makes it difficult for established lawyers to practice law, and hampers pro se litigants from accessing the information and documents they need. As important, the lack of broadband also prevents rural communities from using educational and medical resources that are desperately needed during the coronavirus pandemic and readily available in other parts of the country. The coronavirus pandemic has brought this need into stark focus.
We recognize that the 116th Congress appropriated $7 billion to fund broadband initiatives that will improve access and temporarily make it more affordable for low-income families, but much more needs to be done. In accordance with policy adopted in August 2019, the ABA will urge the 117th Congress to include in any infrastructure legislation a comprehensive plan to ensure that rural America and indigenous communities have access to broadband.