Congress Pares Down Nationwide Legal Aid
Access to justice for many Americans came to the vote Thursday as Congress slashed FY12 funding by $56 million, or 14 percent, for the Legal Services Corporation, which helps subsidize legal aid for low-income residents and provides assistance to lawyers who serve them.
Funding was set at $348 million by a 298-121 vote in the House of Representatives and 70-30 in the Senate.
The LSC is the largest provider of civil legal aid in the nation, distributing 95 percent of its funding to legal aid programs in each of the fifty states. This funding provides direct legal services to people who have incomes below or near the poverty line.
“Funding provided through the Legal Services Corporation is the only way millions of Americans can bring their civil cases—child support and custody decisions, foreclosures and veterans’ benefit disputes, for example—to court,” said American Bar Association President Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III.
Due to the recession, the demand for LSC-funded programs has increased. More than 63 million Americans are now eligible for civil legal assistance, including 22 million children. Over the last year, LSC reports that local legal aid staff had twice as many clients seeking help than their programs could handle.
The ABA supports LSC funding through an ongoing grassroots legislative advocacy campaign involving ABA, state, local and specialty bar leaders.
“The ABA will work diligently with Congress to seek restoration of the $56 million in lost—and desperately needed—funding in a future budget year,” Robinson said.
The House of Representatives had proposed an allocation of $300 million and the Senate proposed $396 million.
For fiscal year 2011, LSC was allocated $398 million. In his FY12 budget request released in February, President Barack Obama asked for an increase to $450 million.
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