ABA President Hilarie Bass commended Congress for passing an omnibus fiscal year 2018 spending bill this month that includes $410 million for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) − a $25 million increase over the program’s fiscal year 2017 level of $385 million.
“The ABA is encouraged that Congress sees the importance of LSC to the lives of their constituents,” Bass said in a statement issued on March 23, the day President Trump signed the legislation, P.L. 115-141 (H.R. 1625). The extra funding, she said, will allow LSC to serve at least an additional 100,000 people. The program currently assists more than 1.9 million low-income Americans each year. Those helped by LSC-supported programs gain access to the courts for cases involving domestic violence, disaster relief, housing, veteran benefits, and child custody.
Bass emphasized that more funding is needed, however, and she pointed out that low-income Americans received inadequate or no legal help for 86 percent of their civil legal problems in the past year. The ABA is urging Congress to appropriate $482 million for fiscal year 2019, an amount that would represent a restoration of funding to the fiscal year 2010 level adjusted for inflation.
Bass also applauded provisions in the legislation related to another ABA priority, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF), which provides loan forgiveness for qualified individuals who work in public service jobs. An additional $2.3 million provided in the funding legislation seeks to correct deficiencies in the Department of Education’s efforts to educate borrowers about PSLF eligibility and certification.
P.L. 115-141 also provides funding for ABA-supported programs addressing domestic violence, including:
●an increase of $8.5 million to $492 million for Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) programs, including $35 million for transitional housing and $40 million for rural domestic violence program;
●Department of Housing and Urban Development funding of $50 million for the first time to support new rapid rehousing projects for domestic violence victims and survivors;
●a $1.8 billion increase to $4.4 billion for the Crime Victims Fund;
●a 3 percent set-aside of funds ($132 million) under the Victims of Crime Act to be used exclusively for tribal crime victim services; and
●a $5 million increase to $154 million for the tribal set-aside under the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act.
The new statute also includes funding for international programs supported by the ABA as part of its $54 billion budget for the Department of State and foreign operations. Appropriations for programs of particular interest to the ABA include: $2.3 billion for democracy programs, with language on preference for cooperative agreements in certain areas; $1.47 billion for contributions to international organizations that include funds to pay U.S. assessed contributions to the United Nations organizations; and $339 million for voluntary contributions to U.N. agencies.
The legislation also includes language limiting any significant redesign of the State Department without congressional oversight, including any efforts to eliminate, consolidate, or reduce the size of the department’s bureaus and offices.
Justice Department (DOJ) funding includes provisions to strengthen the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and authorizes $75 million in fiscal year 2018 and $100 million each year through fiscal year 2018 for programs focusing on preventing student violence (see article, front page).
Also included in the DOJ portion of the legislation is $130 million for initiatives to reduce DNA backlogs, $85 million for Second Chance Act and offender reentry efforts, $20 million for Veterans Treatment Courts, and $282.5 million for juvenile justice programs. The Office of Immigration Review will receive a $65 million increase to $505 million to provide for 100 additional immigration judge teams.