Legal Services Corporation

Latest Developments

U.S. SENATE CONFIRMS EIGHT LSC BOARD OF DIRECTORS 

On August 1st, 2019, eight presidential nominees were confirmed by U.S. Senate votes to serve on the bipartisan, eleven-member Board of Directors of the Legal Services Corporation (LSC). The confirmed nominees were:

  • Robert J. Grey Jr., President of the Leadership Council on Legal     Diversity
  • Matthew Keenan – a partner at Shook, Hardy & Bacon LLP     who will replace Harry J.F. Korrell III
  • Abigail L. Kuzma  co-founder of the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic and member of the LSC’s Governance and Performance Review Committee and Delivery of Legal Services Committee
  • John G. Levi  LSC Chair and partner at Sidley Austin LLP
  • John G. Malcolm, Vice President of the Institute for Constitutional Government and Director, will be replacing former Dean of Harvard Law School Martha Minow
  • Frank X. Neuner Jr., a partner at NeunerPate
  • Julie Reiskin executive Director of the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition
  • ·Gloria Valencia-Weber , Emeritus Professor of Law at the University of New Mexico Law School in Albuquerque.

Current Board Members:

  • Robert J. Grey
  • John G. Levi
  • Julie Reiskin
  • Gloria Valencia-Weber
  • Victor Maddox, a partner in the Louisville, Kentucky law firm of Fultz Maddox Dickens PLC
  • Laurie Mikva, a Clinical Assistant Professor of Law at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law and Commissioner on the Illinois Court of Claims
  • Father Pius Pietrzyk, Chair of the Department of Pastoral Studies and Assistant Professor of Canon Law at St. Patrick Seminary in Menlo Park, California

New Appointees:

  • Matthew Keenan
  • Abigail Kuzma
  • John G. Malcolm
  • Frank X. Neuner 

LSC RELEASES ITS ANNUAL REPORT FOR 2018

On August 2, 2019, the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) released its Annual Report with its statistics and goals accomplished during 2018.

In 2018 the LSC provided grants to 132 independent, nonprofit organizations that provide free civil legal services to low-income Americans from 852 offices located across the United States and its territories. The LSC participated in numerous Congressional and community outreach programs and co-sponsored congressional briefings on important civil legal aid issues in the United States Senate and House of Representatives. The LSC was able to provide critical constituent services in areas of family law, housing, income maintenance, and consumer issues, among others.

The LSC, along with continuing past projects, launched two new task forces for the purpose of tackling the opioid epidemic and aiding in disaster recovery.  The LSC also commenced a Veterans Day Summit, where business and legal leaders discussed the most pressing civil legal issues faced annually by seven in ten low-income households. This was the first in what will be an annual forum highlighting access to justice issues and the need to support veterans and military families.

The LSC also increased pro bono among the private bar in 2018. Although pro bono volunteers cannot replace the work of legal aid lawyers, the private bar is a critical resource to address the civil legal needs of low-income Americans. LSC’s Pro Bono Innovation Fund (PBIF) in 2018 was able to award fifteen grants to expand pro bono legal services in twelve states.

Another important component of the LSC is the Technology Initiative Grant Program, which awarded twenty-six grants to twenty-four legal services organizations in twenty-one states. The fund leverages technology to expand access to high-quality legal assistance by exploring new ways to serve eligible clients, strengthen program capacity, and support the efforts of pro bono attorneys. 

U.S. HOUSE SIGNS BIPARTISAN BUDGET ACT INTO LAW

On August 2nd, 2019, the President signed into law the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019, which passed the U.S. Senate by a vote of 67-28. The act passed the House the previous week. This two-year budget agreement sets caps for defense and non-defense spending for Fiscal Years 2020 and 2021.

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019 increases the chance of passing future appropriations bills and decreases the likelihood of a government shutdown during the next two years.

While the act increases discretionary spending over the current Fiscal Year 2019, it provides $15 billion less for total non-defense spending compared to the total of the House Fiscal Year 2020 appropriations bills. This decrease will likely translate to a lower funding level for the Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bill, which in turn will put downward pressure on the House’s proposed appropriation of $550 million to the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) for FY2020 – $135 million above the LSC’s FY2019 funding.

The Senate Committee on Appropriations is expected to divide the allocations for all twelve appropriations bills by next week to allow the subcommittees to begin work on the bills during the August recess, with the first markup scheduled for September 12.

Congress likely will pass a Continuing Resolution by October 1st, to provide temporary funding for each agency until its funding bill is signed into law.

U.S. HOUSE PASSES A PROPOSED $550 MILLION FOR LSC IN FY2020

On June 25, 2019, the United States House of Representatives passed the Fiscal Year 2020 (FY2020) appropriations bill, H.R. 3055, for the Departments of Commerce, Justice, Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, Interior, Environment, Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development. The bill passed the House by a vote of 227-194 and was subsequently sent to the Senate on July 8th

The bill includes five of the twelve regular FY2020 appropriations bills. The Legal Services Corporation has been appropriated $550,000,000—a $135,000,000 increase from the current funding of $415 million. $415 million is the largest amount of appropriated funds the LSC has ever received in absolute dollars. This increase in funds would follow the $15,000,000 provided to the LSC in the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2019 which passed in June to cover legal needs arising from natural disasters occurring in 2017-2019.

The House-passed bill would need to be negotiated or “conferenced” with whatever the Senate produces to achieve the final appropriation for LSC. The Senate appropriation for LSC is not expected to be as high as the House appropriation, because Senate Majority Leader McConnell has announced that the Senate appropriations process will await a budget agreement between the Senate, House, and White House.

WHITE HOUSE ISSUES STATEMENT OF ADMINISTRATION POLICY OPPOSING LSC FUNDING FOR FY2020

On June 18, 2019, the White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) opposing the House of Representative’s H.R. 3055, making Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 appropriations for

1.     the Departments of Commerce and Justice, Science, and Related Agencies,

2.     Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies programs,

3.     the Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies,

4.     Military Construction, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies, and

5.     the Departments of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies.

The SAP states that the budgetary framework of the bill and the included appropriations bills would raise the discretionary spending caps by more than $350 billion in fiscal years (FY) 2020 and 2021, putting the Federal Government on track to add nearly $2 trillion to the rising national debt of $22 trillion over the next ten years.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the bill would appropriate $321.9 billion - $25.7 billion, or 8.7 percent - above the FY 2020 Budget request and $29.8 billion above the FY 2019 enacted level.

The SAP further states that the bill also includes problematic provisions implicating key Administration priorities, and if it were presented to the President in its current form, his advisors would recommend that he veto it.

Regarding the Legal Services Corporation, the SAP states that the Administration is disappointed the bill does not eliminate the current one-size-fits-all federal funding model, which would save the American taxpayer more than $400 million per year.

HOUSE PASSES $15M FUNDING FOR LSC IN DISASTER APPROPRIATIONS BILL

On June 3rd, 2019, the United States House of Representatives passed by a vote of 354 to 58 the Fiscal Year 2019 Supplemental Appropriations Bill, including $15,000,000 for the Legal Services Corporation.

The $19.1 billion of appropriated funds will cover the consequences of hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, typhoons, volcanic activity, snowstorms, and wildfires occurring in calendar years 2018 and 2019.

In previous years, LSC disaster funding had been limited to use for technology, but in last year’s FY18 bill and this year’s FY19 bill, no such restriction exists.

The President has been overseas but has pledged to sign the bill into law immediately upon his return.
 

HOUSE CJS SPENDING BILL SEEKS TO INCREASE LSC FUNDING 33% TO $550M

On May 16, 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee released their draft of the Fiscal Year 2020 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS) Appropriations Act, which would fund the Legal Services Corporation at $550 million—a 33% increase over Fiscal Year 2019 funding.

The bill is scheduled to be marked up by the subcommittee at 9:30am on May 17, 2019. Full House Appropriations Committee movement is expected to ensue within approximately one week. Passage by the full House of Representatives is not yet scheduled.

Resolving the differences between the House bill and the Senate bill and the Administration’s position will not be easy. The process for enactment is likely to take at least six months.

HOUSE SUB-ALLOCATIONS

On May 6, 2019, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee Chair Nita Lowey (D-NY) released their 302(b) sub-allocations for the twelve appropriations subcommittee bills.

The full CJS appropriations bill, which contains funding for the Legal Services Corporation, was allocated $66.4 billion—a 3.6% increase over Fiscal Year 2019 funding.

The full House Appropriations Committee approved the sub-allocations over the objections of all Republicans. Top Appropriations Committee Republican Kay Granger (R-TX) said,

“The allocations offered by the Democrats are based on topline funding levels that I do not support. I also question the Democrats’ priorities [citing a “humanitarian and security crisis at our southern boarder’]… More work needs to be done by the House, the Senate, and the White House to find a way forward on next year’s spending levels, and that is why I voted no today.”

Click here to read more of the latest developments on LSC

Overview

The President is calling for the elimination of the Legal Services Corporation. Make a stand for legal aid!

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 bono system.

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 serves each county and territory of the United States.

For decades the ABA has advocated Legal Services Corporation funding 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, and polling indicates 82% of Americans support equal access to justice that protects the vulnerable.

Budget and Appropriations Process for FY 2020

Budget

In practice, Congress has moved to biennial budgeting in recent years. That means that for 2019—the first year of the two years of this 115th Congress—the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate and President should establish the total spending [the 302(a) number] for Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 and for FY2021. Under current law [31 U.S.C. §1105(a)], the President is required to submit the budget proposal to Congress on or after the first Monday in January, but no later than the first Monday in February. The Administration’s FY2020 budget proposal was officially delivered to Congress on Monday, March 11, 2019, thus commencing the House and Senate Budget Committees’ work on a budget. This FY 2020 budget proposes the elimination of the Legal Services Corporation. Every year, the Budget Committees are directed to produce a budget by April 15th. Talks between the House, Senate, and Administration to establish an overall 302(a) budget for FY2020 and FY2021 are ongoing.

Appropriations

The appropriations bills spend the money to fund our government. After April 15th, the Appropriations Committees are authorized to commence the appropriations process—with or without a budget. The first step is for the Appropriations Chair to assign each of the twelve appropriations subcommittees a 302(b) suballocation—the amount a subcommittee is to spend in its appropriations bill. The House of Representatives initiates spending bills, passing the first of the twelve bills in subcommittee on April 30th, 2019, and the last of the twelve on June 5th, 2019. The House Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) Appropriations Subcommittee approved by voice vote the CJS appropriations bill for its Fiscal Year 2020 on May 17th, 2019. The full House Appropriations Committee approved the bill by party-line roll call vote on May 22nd, 2019. This House CJS bill provides $73.895 billion in discretionary budget authority—an increase of $9.78 billion (15.3%) above the fiscal year 2019 level. The House FY2020 CJS bill would fund the Legal Services Corporation at $550 million—a 33% increase.

*Note that because the House moved forward with appropriations bills before the total budget 302(a) spending level was established, adjustments (generally down) are likely in the House 302(b) spending levels for the individual appropriations bills. In recent years, bundling all or most of the 12 appropriations bills into an omnibus appropriations bill is routine.

Continuing Resolutions

Appropriations bills are supposed to be completed before the beginning of the fiscal year on October 1st, but the deadlines are regularly breached, necessitating continuing resolutions (CRs) that fund the government through a new deadline. Congress often needs 3 to 5 CRs per year before the final omnibus appropriations bill can be enacted.

Supplemental Appropriations

Supplemental appropriations are used to address needs that arise after the twelve appropriations bills have been finalized. The supplemental appropriations bill typically funds relief from natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, et cetera. Supplemental appropriations have yet to be proposed for Fiscal Year 2020. On June 3rd, 2019, the United States House of Representatives passed by a vote of 354 to 58 the Fiscal Year 2019 Supplemental Appropriations Bill, including $15,000,000 for the Legal Services Corporation. The President signed the $19.1 billion bill on June 6, 2019.

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.

Resources

ABA RESOURCES

LETTERS OF SUPPORT

HELPFUL WEBSITES

Legal Aid Directory

Click here for a list of legal aid offices by state. The list includes national and state-specific resources for both veterans and non-military persons who qualify for legal aid.

Contact

Aloysius Hogan, Esq.
Legislative Counsel

Governmental Affairs Office
American Bar Association
1050 Connecticut Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20036
Direct: (202) 662-1767
FAX: (202) 662-1762
Aloysius.Hogan@americanbar.org