The ABA recently asked Congress to provide $452 million for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) in fiscal year 2016 – a $77 million increase also requested by the Obama administration to counter the growing need for civil legal assistance for low-income Americans.
“Robust funding for LSC is desperately needed because other funding sources have diminished due to the country’s economic downturn, and pro bono efforts, while critical, are insufficient to completely replace federal legal aid funding,” ABA President William C. Hubbard said in statements submitted to the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies.
Hubbard thanked the subcommittee members for their leadership in achieving increases in LSC funding over the past two years, but he explained that LSC budget levels are still lower than they were in 2010 and an estimated 50 percent of all eligible people seeking legal aid services are turned away due to lack of resources.
“When people are unable to resolve their civil legal matters, they are more likely to require other forms of publicly funded assistance,” Hubbard said. “Therefore, funding LSC is a necessary investment that provides long-term benefits for Americans.”
LSC, the largest provider of civil legal assistance to low-income Americans, funds legal aid programs through grants in each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. LSC grantees assist a variety of clients, including veterans returning from war, domestic violence victims, seniors, those with disabilities, low-income military families, those struggling with housing matters such as foreclosures and evictions, people coping with the after-effects of natural disasters, and families dealing with child custody issues.
Hubbard explained that more than a third of all cases closed by LSC grantees deal with some type of family law matter and that 26 percent of the LSC grantees’ total caseload are housing issues.
He also pointed out that military veterans and their families encounter numerous civil legal issues as they transition to civilian life and often need assistance recovering benefits from the Veterans Benefits Administration for service-related injuries. In addition, natural disasters that have occurred with surprising frequency in recent years have thrown thousands into poverty and created legal problems of unprecedented scope. He also explained that LSC grantees are sometimes the only source of legal aid for low-income citizens in rural areas.
Hubbard concluded his statement by citing the ABA’s long history of support for providing legal services to the poor, starting with the establishment of the Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants in 1920. Following a call in 1964 from then ABA President Lewis F. Powell Jr. for expansion of the nation’s legal services to the poor, the efforts of the ABA and many others led to the creation of LSC in 1974.