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January 01, 2012

Another Look at the Numbers: Legal Services And Older Americans Act Reauthorization

David Godfrey

Reauthorization of the Older Americans Act is a key time to examine the structure of its programs and maximize efficiency of service delivery. Legal service delivery needs to be included in this examination.

Legal services are critical to protecting the rights of older Americans. In 2010 more than 971,000 hours of legal assistance was provided under the Older Americans Act.1 However, studies indicate that the need for legal assistance exceeds by at least 80 percent the capacity of the current civil legal assistance system at current funding levels.2 In 2010 Older Americans Act programs invested slightly more than $49 million of federal, state, and local funding in legal assistance programming.

In an ideal world, we would seek to increase funding to meet the unmet need. In the current climate an increase is unlikely. As Assistant Secretary of Aging Kathy Greenlee pointed out in her address at the 2012 Aging in America Conference,  [w]e will do well to hold our own.” The funding of the Administration on Aging is discretionary, which is the kind most at risk for cuts in the federal budget.3

So we turn to ways to do more with the resources we have. Under the current system Older Americans Act Title III-B funding goes to the states, which distribute it to the local planning and service areas or area agencies on aging (AAA).

In most states contracts for the provision of legal services are negotiated and reported at the local level. In 2010 there were a reported 863 legal services providers—meaning that there were 863 individually negotiated contracts or agreements for service.4 Each contact represents a significant amount of time and effort to negotiate and report on, representing a significant amount of overhead. A reported 120 of these legal assistance programs are run directly by the AAAs (or the local equivalent) as in-house programs.5

The majority of the rest of the contracts are with the 136 Legal Service Corporation (LSC)-funded local legal aid programs.6 When I say the majority of the contracts are with LSC-funded programs, of the $26,179,734 in title III-B funding for legal services reported in 2010,7 LSC grantees reported receiving $20,339,315, which is well over three-quarters of the Older Americans Act funding for legal assistance.8

The remaining roughly $6 million was spent on the 120 in-house programs and on contracts with private attorneys to provide services. If the number of contracts for services is proportional to the proportion of funding going to LSC-funded programs, there are about 647 separate contracts for services with 136 legal aid programs. This is nearly five contracts to negotiate, report on, and account for by each LSC-funded legal aid program.

When we talk about restructuring the contracting and funding system, the aim is not to remove local involvement; it is to urge the creation of a more efficient system of contracting for the provision of legal assistance and reporting on those contracts. A system that creates 647 contracts with 136 providers is not efficient. There are already 10 states that use a single statewide legal service provider,9 meaning that the other 637 contracts are spread over 40 states. There has to be a better and more efficient way of doing this.


  1. 2010 AoA SPR Report, Table 4b,
  2. Documenting the Justice Gap in America, LSC, 2009, page 1,
  3. General Session 1, The 2012 Political Landscape and Older Adults, Aging in America Conference, March 29, 2012, Washington, DC.
  4. 2010 AoA SPR Report, Table 8,
  5. 2010 AoA SPR Report, Table 9a,
  6. Legal Service Corporation 2012 Annual Report, page ii,
  7. 2010 AoA SPR Report, Table 6a,
  8. Legal Service Corporation Fact Book 2010,
  9. 2010 AoA SPR Report, Table 8, AK,DC,DE,ID,KS,ND, NM,OK, WV,WY (plus Guam)

David Godfrey

About the Author: David Godfrey, Senior Attorney, ABA Commission on Law and Aging.