The Senate Appropriations Committee voted July 27 to maintain Legal Services Corporation (LSC) funding at its current level of $385 million for fiscal year 2018 − rejecting the administration’s call to eliminate LSC.
The committee accepted the amount approved two days earlier by its Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies.
The Senate committee’s action followed approval July 13 by the House Appropriations Committee of reduced funding of $300 million for the corporation, which would result in a 24 percent reduction in the program’s basic field grants. Despite the proposed reduction in LSC funding, members of the House committee indicated strong support for legal services during the markup session.
“The ABA is especially grateful for the cooperation and support of Chairman Richard Shelby and Ranking Member Jeanne Shaheen in maintaining level funding despite the White House’s recommendation that all federal funding for the LSC be eliminated,” ABA President Linda A. Klein said following the Senate subcommittee’s July 25 action. She said she looked forward to the House matching the Senate funding level in the final bill later this year.
Klein emphasized that LSC is “an essential part of our American justice system” and “ensures equal access to civil justice for all Americans, regardless of income.” She noted that a recent study conducted for the LSC by the University of Chicago found that 71 percent of low-income families experienced at least one civil legal problem last year, but 86 percent of those problems received inadequate or no legal help. “Much of this justice gap is due to insufficient funding,” she said.
During House committee consideration, Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) offered an amendment to continue the LSC at its current level of $385 million but withdrew the amendment following assurances from Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) that LSC would be a top priority as the bill moves through the legislative process. Culberson − who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies – said the work of the LSC is “vitally important…particularly for battered women who need help in court.”
In a July 20 letter to Culberson, ABA President Linda A. Klein expressed the ABA’s gratitude for his comments and emphasized that the LSC, which helps nearly 2 million people a year, also is critical for low-income veterans, rural residents and survivors of federally declared natural disasters.
“Money spent for legal aid is money well spent,” Klein wrote. She pointed out that over 30 studies show substantial return on money expended for legal services, including defending individuals against wrongful conduct, and helping families remain in their homes or maintain the ability to earn a living.
In a statement issued in late June when the proposed LSC cut was first announced by the House Appropriations Committee, Klein called on the Senate to increase LSC funding. She emphasized that LSC is the single largest funder of civil legal aid programs in the United States and supports 133 organizations serving every congressional district.