June 19, 2019

Legal Profession Eyes Proposed Amendments for FY 2020 Budget

The House Appropriations Committee is currently considering a “minibus” spending package that includes several areas of interest to the ABA and the legal community at large. The package provides almost $1 trillion in discretionary funds to federal programs in FY2020 and bundles the following four appropriations bills – Defense; Labor, HHS, and Education; Energy and Water Development; and State Foreign Operations.  

Notable topics for the legal profession cover several areas the ABA has directly lobbied on, including funding for the Legal Services Corporation, the Violence Against Women Act, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, and more.

To see an abbreviated list of the issues of most concern for the ABA, scroll to the bottom of this page.

Highlights from the current bill include the following:

If enacted, the biggest win for the ABA would be a $550 million allocation for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), an increase of $135 million over LSC’s current funding. The Legal Services Corporation Act, initially enacted in 1974, established a 501(c)(3) organization aimed at providing high quality civil legal assistance to low-income persons. This would be a particularly important win for the ABA as increased funding for LSC was a core focus of ABA Day in April of this year.

Another favorable result for funding routinely supported by the ABA involves the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). VAWA programs would receive an appropriation of $582.5 million, including funding for grants to combat violence against women, transitional housing assistance grants for victims of domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, or sexual assault. While this appears to be a big win for the ABA, the bill is not likely to survive in the Senate due to controversial amendments.

During the appropriations markup, the committee also adopted $65 million for programs and support authorized under the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974. Among other things, the $7 million increase over FY2019 would provide emergency support to juvenile justice residential facilities, youth mentoring, and delinquency prevention programs.

With the upcoming 2020 elections in sight, the committee looks to bolster election security in part through the Election Assistance Commission (EAC). The EAC assists states with election security; it has been allocated $600 million specifically earmarked for states to buy voting systems with “voter verified paper ballots.” This is a $220 million increase from FY2018’s allocation and was likely in response to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s warning about the dangers posed by foreign interference in U.S. elections.

The Executive Office for Immigration Review was allocated over $672 million for the administration of immigration-related activities, including, $25 million for the Legal Orientation Program (LOP). Through the LOP, representatives from nonprofit organizations provide comprehensive explanations about immigration court procedures along with other basic legal information to large groups of detained individuals.[3]

Finally, the Judiciary would be given a total of $7.51 billion in discretionary appropriations, an increase of $258.3 million from last year. That includes $1.23 billion for defender services to support operations and expenses associated with panel attorney compensation, an increase of $84 million from last year; and $641 million for court security to support protective services and security needs in courthouses, an increase of $34 million from last year.

This bill is expected to undergo substantial revisions through the appropriations process for fiscal year 2020, continuing first with the House before moving to the Senate and the White House over the next few months.  

Potential ABA wins from the House Appropriations markup, if passed:

1.  The Legal Services Corporation would be allocated $550 million, an increase of $135 million over LSC’s current funding.

2.  The Election Assistance Commission (EAC), which assists states with election security, would be allocated $600 million specifically earmarked for states to buy voting systems with “voter verified paper ballots.”

3.   The Executive Office for Immigration Review would be allocated over $672 million for the administration of immigration-related activities, including, $25 million for the Legal Orientation Program (LOP).

4.   The Office on Violence Against Women would be given $582.5 million, including funding for grants to combat violence against women, transitional housing assistance grants for victims of domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, or sexual assault. This may not survive the Senate.

5.    $65 million would be appropriated for the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974.

6.       The Judiciary would be given a total of $7.51 billion in discretionary appropriations, an increase of $258.3 million increase from last year.