The presidents of 61 state and territorial bar associations and their counterparts at five national bar associations have sent a letter to Congress asking for increased funding for the Legal Services Corp.
The April 20 letter urges the lawmakers to add at least $15 million in new funds, raising the LSC budget to a minimum of $435 million. The bar leaders say more funds are needed to cover a growing gap in aid that has been confirmed by recent studies, such as the 2009 LSC Justice Gap study. That study is an annual analysis by the LSC measuring the difference between the level of civil legal assistance available and the level needed to meet the needs of low-income individuals and families.
The 2009 report, released last September, projected that LSC programs will not be able to meet the legal needs of about 944,000 poor people seeking assistance in 2009, slightly more people than the programs served in 2008. In one category -- foreclosures -- LSC-funded programs were projected to turn away two for every person served. Programs also would take up fewer than half of the requests for help with employment and family law matters, according to the report.
"Without community legal aid providers, we have no hope of offering justice to struggling Americans,” said American Bar Association President Carolyn Lamm in an April 21 statement. “That’s why presidents of all state and territorial bar associations and leaders of four major U.S. bars of color have joined the ABA to press for proper funding and reauthorization of the Legal Services Corporation.”
The LSC was created by Congress in 1974. It was last reauthorized by the lawmakers in 1977 and that reauthorization expired in 1980. Congress has continued to appropriate funds for the LSC and has imposed a series of substantive rules and changes through riders on the appropriations bills.
“Much has changed in 30 years and LSC needs Congress to enable it to be current with today’s needs,” said Lamm. “We call on Congress to produce a final bill that will not only improve the efficiency and the delivery of legal services to low-income people, but will also strengthen governance and accountability.”
In March 2009, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) introduced the Civil Access to Justice Act, a bill to reauthorize the LSC and increase its funding level to $750 million, which is approximately the amount, he said, appropriated in 1981, adjusted for inflation.
The letter, supported by the National Conference of Bar Presidents, includes the signature of 61 state and territorial bar presidents and the presidents of the ABA, National Bar Association, Hispanic National Bar Association, National Asian Pacific Bar Association and National Native American Bar Association.