Faced with increased demands for legal assistance from low-income Americans, several representatives of legal aid groups will appear before a congressional panel later today to help make the case for additional funding.
The Senate Judiciary Committee’s “Closing the Justice Gap: Providing Civil Legal Assistance to Low-Income Americans” will consists of two sessions.
Helaine Barnett, president of the nonprofit Legal Services Corp., and Jonann Chiles, a Little Rock, Ark., member of Legal Services’ board of directors, will testify during the first part of the hearing.
Barnett already appeared before a House Appropriations subcommittee last month, defending Legal Services’ $471 million budget request for fiscal year 2009. For fiscal year 2008, congress approved $350 million.
The congressional scrutiny follows a recent Legal Services’ report that found that funding shortages have forced the organization’s legal aid programs to turn away half of eligible applicants.
In an April 3 statement, Legal Services said the nationwide mortgage foreclosure crisis and requests from low-income families following natural disasters such as wildfires, hurricanes and tornadoes have exacerbated the problem.
A second group of experts at today’s hearing will include Jo-Ann Wallace, president and CEO of the National Legal Aid and Defenders Association; Rebekah Diller of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s law school; Wilhelm Joseph, executive director of the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau; and Kenneth Boehm, chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center.
They will be joined by Jeanette M. Franzel, director of financial management and assurance team of the U.S. Government and Accountability Office, and Texas district court Judge Lora Livingston, who also serves on the American Bar Association’s standing committee on legal aid and indigent defendants.