GOP Cuts Would Decimate Legal Aid for Low-Income Families
by Jason Williams, Sun Feb 13, 2011 at 01:14:59 AM EST
Not content with cutting funding for education, housing, and health-services aid for low-income families in their budget proposal, House Republicans have included a $75 million cut in legal services aid that for many low income and rural families facing foreclosure is a last line of defense. And many of these legal aid programs are already hanging by a thread. Via Law.com:
Law firms may be benefiting from the slow economic recovery, but legal aid groups face the most dire circumstances in decades. The problem is a perfect storm of IOLTA funding declines, cuts in state and local funding, uncertain federal support and a tight private fundraising environment. The situation is exacerbated by steep increases in demand for free legal services as millions of low-income Americans face long-term unemployment, foreclosure and other serious problems.
For example, the Legal Aid Society — which serves New York City and is the largest nonprofit legal aid provider in the country with an annual caseload of 300,000 — saw a 40% increase in people seeking assistance with health care problems, a 21% increase in those seeking help to prevent evictions and a 6% increase in those seeking domestic violence help, said attorney-in-chief Steven Banks. The organization's civil division can help only one of every nine people who ask for assistance.
According to a Legal Services Corporation press release, the cuts amount to a 17% decrease from already meager 2011 funding.
The impact of the proposed reduction at the mid-point of a fiscal year would be devastating to the 136 nonprofit legal aid programs across the nation that receive funding from LSC. The proposed cut could result in the layoffs of at least 300 legal aid staff attorneys who help victims of domestic violence, keep families in their homes by averting unlawful foreclosures and evictions, help veterans and the disabled obtain benefits, protect the elderly and others from consumer fraud, and provide other services in civil cases. Programs would be forced to turn away cases except for those involving immediate issues of safety and security, and many programs serving rural areas would be forced to close offices.
The Brennan Center for Justice crunched some staggering numbers on the effects of the economy on civil legal aid services demand and availability. Arkansas, for example, was estimated to have 14,000 low income residents for each legal aid attorney at the time of the 2010 study. 2007 to 2008, Arizona saw more than half of existing legal aid orgs disappear. And funding shortages in Massachusetts left an estimated 20,000 low-income residents without access to services.
The American Bar Association President called the cuts "shocking and unacceptable."