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.
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.”
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.