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ABA Day 2019: lawyers mobilize for legal aid and public loan forgiveness

More than 340 lawyers came to Washington, D.C., from all 50 states last week to advocate for issues that affect the legal profession during ABA Day 2019.

New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (center) receives the ABA Justice Award from ABA President Bob Carlson (right) and ABA Day chair Deborah Enix-Ross

New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (center) receives the ABA Justice Award from ABA President Bob Carlson (right) and ABA Day chair Deborah Enix-Ross

Top issues highlighted April 9-11 included support for Legal Services Corporation (LSC) funding and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. The ABA is seeking funding of $593 million for LSC's 2020 budget. The association also opposes terminating or limiting the PSLF that reduces the burden of educational loans for lawyers who work in less remunerative public service careers.

Each year, the ABA, through its Governmental Affairs Office, coordinates ABA Day so that lawyers can make their case as constituents, face-to-face, with their Congressional representatives.  The efforts work. In February, more funding ($5 million) was provided for LSC and an additional $15 million was budgeted for disaster legal aid. Last year, ABA members’ efforts were instrumental in saving the Department of Justice’s Legal Orientation Program for prospective immigrants. The orientation program provides information to people navigating the immigration process.

This year, ABA President Bob Carlson attended several visits with his home-state representatives and Congressional leaders.

“ABA Day is a unique opportunity for lawyers from around the country to come to Washington and inform and educate their Senators and Representatives on the important issues that affect our justice system,” Carlson said. “This year, we made important headway towards securing more funding for the Legal Services Corporation and advocating for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. These efforts will assist in aiding more people in America.”

ABA Day also gives the association a chance to recognize members of Congress for their commitment to justice. This year, the ABA presented Justice Awards to Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) for his support of LSC funding; to Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) for their help saving the Legal Orientation Program; to Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) for his backing of PSLF; and Reps. Vicente Gonzalez (D-Texas) and Alex Mooney (R-W.V.) for their assistance in upholding the independence of the legal profession.

Sen. Shaheen thanked lawyers for efforts like the Legal Orientation Program, adding that “due process rights should extend to everyone, not just to those who can afford them.”

Virginia’s Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine promised to put forth a bill to help simplify and strengthen the PSLF. He said that there was “an assault on public service” and that the ABA was an important factor in keeping the program going. Kaine also praised the ABA for its work promoting LSC funding. “Your advocacy for legal services has helped save it,” he said.

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