Legal Services Corporation

Latest Developments

CONGRESSMEN REQUEST DATA ON PRO SE LITIGATION – MAY 25, 2017

A balanced group of six Congressmen—Trey Gowdy, Joe Kennedy, John Ratliffe, Steve Cohen, Pat Meehan, and Bobby Scott—wrote to the Department of Justice requesting a study of pro se litigants, including how many proceed pro se and how they fare compared to litigants with lawyers.

RELEASE OF ADMINISTRATION BUDGET PROPOSAL – MAY 23, 2017

On May 23, 2017, the Administration released its Fiscal Year 2018 budget proposal which proposes $33 million to be used only for permanent closure of the Legal Services Corporation. Take action.

THIRTY-TWO ATTORNEYS GENERAL WRITE IN SUPPORT OF LSC FUNDING – May 22, 2017

Led by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, the National Association of Attorneys General circulated a letter in support of LSC funding. All 25 Democrat State Attorneys General signed, along with the AGs from American Samoa and the District of Columbia and 5 Republican Attorneys General.

SENATORS REQUEST APPROPRIATIONS FOR LSC – MAY 18, 2017

Forty-one U.S. Senators sign a group letter in support of Legal Services Corporation funding, including Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), and Mike Rounds (R-SD).

ABA SENATE TESTIMONY FOR LSC – MAY 12, 2017

ABA President Linda Klein submitted testimony on May 12, 2017, to the Senate Appropriations Committee in support of the Legal Services Corporation. President Klein emphasizes the fact that civil legal services are a constituent service performed in every state and congressional district in the country, often at the request of Congress’ own constituent service staff.

NINETEEN CHILDREN’S ORGANIZATIONS WRITE FOR LSC FUNDING – May 5, 2017

The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities circulated a letter about the importance of LSC funding for children’s welfare. A resounding 19 organizations signed in support of LSC.

FINAL LSC APPROPRIATIONS FOR FISCAL YEAR 2017 – May 1, 2017

The Legal Services Corporation received level funding in the final Fiscal Year 2017 appropriations bill that was released on May 1, 2017. Following 5.4%, 2.0%, and 1.9% increases over the previous three years (in inflation-adjusted dollars), the level funding in FY2017 amounts to a 2.98% cut when adjusted for inflation.

Ultimately, the FY17 LSC appropriation of $385,000,000 is 18.8% lower than it was in FY10 ($474,169,460 in FY17 dollars), while the number of people qualifying for assistance is about 25% higher than in 2007. Compare also the FY17 funding to LSC’s average appropriation of $705,223,611 (in FY17-adjusted dollars) during the 1980s. LSC funding needs restoration. The key pages of the omnibus appropriations act and the chart “LSC Appropriations in 2017 Dollars” are linked at right.

ABA HOUSE TESTIMONY FOR LSC – April 27, 2017

ABA President Linda Klein submitted testimony on April 27, 2017, to the House Appropriations Committee in support of the Legal Services Corporation. President Klein emphasizes that funding for equal justice under federal law cannot be shouldered by state and local governments as an unfunded mandate. The federal government should contribute its fair share. That can only be accomplished through funding the Legal Services Corporation. Link at right.

ABA DAYS LOBBYING FLY-IN – APRIL 25-27, 2017

The American Bar Association from hosted bar associations from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Islands, all of whom came to Washington to advocate for the Legal Services Corporation.

This year we had hundreds of meetings with members of the House and Senate or their staff, including meetings with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Thad Cochran (R-MS), House Financial Services Committee Ranking Member Maxine Waters (D-CA), and Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

Tuesday’s Justice Awards Reception and Dinner at the National Museum of Women in the Arts honored

  • Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL),
  • Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI),
  • Representative Mac Thornberry (R-TX), and
  • Representative Joe Kennedy (D-MA)­­­.


Representative Kennedy was awarded in large part for his support of civil legal services and the Legal Services Corporation. He attended Harvard Law School and volunteered there for a legal aid program, working on landlord-tenant issues. Prior to being elected to Congress, he served as an Assistant District Attorney in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Representative Kennedy is cofounder of the Congressional Access to Civil Legal Services Caucus, which was created to encourage discourse across party lines on how best to provide justice for all. One example of his effort to seek bipartisan solutions is a bill to have every U.S. Attorney’s Office have one event annually with other organizations to promote legal services for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault and to engage the community in providing assistance.

Senator Shelby was honored as Chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies, which is responsible for recommending the annual appropriation for the Legal Services Corporation. His continued leadership secured increased funding for the Legal Services Corporation—increases of 5.4%, 2.0%, and 1.9% increases over the previous three years (in inflation-adjusted dollars).

At Wednesday’s Opening Session, Senator Sullivan, Representatives Brooks and Fitzpatrick, and LSC President Jim Sandman discussed the benefits of the Legal Services Corporation. Senator Sullivan also discussed his POWER Act that would have U.S. Attorneys conduct one event per year to recruit pro bono attorneys to handle domestic violence cases.

Congressman Dan Kildee kindly secured our Headquarters on the Hill in the Rayburn building throughout ABA Days.

On Wednesday evening, Justice Elena Kagan hosted a Supreme Court Reception for the ABA, at which we held our Grassroots Award ceremony. Edwin A. Harnden received the individual award for spending the better part of two decades advocating for increased access to legal aid for Oregonians. The Campaign for Equal Justice, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Balmer, and Oregon attorney Andrew Schpak supported Mr. Harnden’s nomination. Kids In Need Of Defense (KIND) received the organizational award for advocating for vital services that help unaccompanied children in the United States.

Our Thursday Breakfast Briefing featured Senior Associate White House Counsel James Burnham and U.S. Senator Al Franken.

ABA DAYS FLY-IN TRAINING – APRIL 4, 2017

In preparation for ABA Days, the Governmental Affairs Office hosted a teleconference for attendees. Legislative Counsel Aloysius Hogan introduced

  • Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht,
  • Congresswoman Susan Brooks’ Chief of Staff Megan Savage,
  • Former White House Counsel Harriet Miers, and
  • LSC President Jim Sandman.


Each one in turn explained the history and philosophical underpinnings of LSC as well as judicial, legislative, and Administration/practicing lawyer perspectives on LSC. Aloysius followed up with an explanation of the unfunded mandate argument useful in discussions with Republican Senators and Representatives: The federal government has enacted hundreds of laws in the areas of law practiced by legal aid attorneys. The federal government must fund equal justice under federal law—not place unfunded mandates on state and local government. Also, Aloysius explained that the constituent service staffers in virtually all of the Senate and House offices refer cases to legal services offices. Legislative Counsel Ken Goldsmith closed the program with an explanation of how to use the Hill meetings to benefit veterans.

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.

U.S. SENATE

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.

Overview

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).

Pro Bono 

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.

Cost-Benefit Analyses

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.

Effective Leveraging

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.

Appropriations Request

The ABA supports strong federal funding for LSC.  

Key Points

  • 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.

Resources  

See the tab at the right for links the general ABA One-Pager on LSC Funding and other resources. For more information, see also DefendLegalAid.org and HelpLegalAid.org.

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. 

ABA Policy

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.

Updated as of:

June 19, 2017

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