As Congress began considering fiscal year 2018 appropriations levels, ABA President Linda A. Klein warned last month that steep budget cuts proposed by the White House “would severely undermine the fairness of the legal system and deny access to justice for some of society’s most vulnerable individuals.”
“America must not compromise on the principles that justice is accessible to all and all are equal under the law,” she said, pointing that those affected by the proposed budget cuts include veterans, children, the elderly, people with disabilities, people in poverty, families suffering after natural disasters, and survivors of domestic violence.
The $4.1 trillion budget proposed by the White House, which was released May 23, would increase defense spending and border security funding while severely cutting domestic social welfare programs as well as science and research.
Klein highlighted two “important and valuable” programs in particular that were identified for elimination by the White House: the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF).
The LSC, which provides funding for civil legal aid for low-income Americans in every congressional district, promotes fair and efficient operation of the nation’s courts, Klein said. She added that what makes the cuts more outrageous is that more than 30 cost-benefit analyses show that LSC delivers far more in benefits than it costs.
In statements submitted recently to House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees, the ABA recommended that LSC, currently funded at $385 million, receive a fiscal year 2018 appropriation of $450 million. The ABA is spearheading a grassroots campaign calling on individuals to become Legal Aid Defenders and create a card expressing support for LSC funding. More than 19,000 of these cards were delivered personally to members of Congress by ABA Day in Washington participants in April. Cards will continue to be distributed to senators and representatives during the appropriations process and beyond.
In addition, a bipartisan group of attorneys general from 32 states sent a letter to the appropriations subcommittees highlighting the need for legal services for rural and low-income Americans and urging Congress to oppose the administration’s proposed elimination of federal funding for LSC. “LSC funding fosters longstanding and useful public-private partnerships between legal aid organizations and private firms and attorneys nationwide who donate their time and skills to assist low-income residents in our states,” the letter said.
In her statement about the administration’s proposed budget, Klein emphasized that PSLF, which provides loan forgiveness for those who enter public services work, encourages people to work in lower-paying but critically needed jobs that serve the public good. Without loan forgiveness, she said, fewer people would be able to dedicate their lives to public service as prosecutors, public defenders, legal aid lawyers and positions in other justice-related fields.
At the same time LSC and PSLF are targeted for harsh reductions, Klein said, many other parts of the proposed budget also would do “severe damage to the most vulnerable people in our society by cutting access to food assistance, medical care, housing, and other necessities of life.”
She said that as the budget process moves forward, the ABA will be urging Congress to reinstate adequate funding for these important and valuable programs, which she said “must be preserved to establish justice as the Constitution calls on us to do.”