In contrast to House Republican proposals for sharp cuts in funding for the Legal Services Corp., President Barack Obama's budget proposal released today calls for a $30 million increase for the next fiscal year. The proposed budget can be viewed at page 1251 of this document.
As we reported here in this week's National Law Journal, House Republicans last week proposed a $75 million decrease for the remainder of this year in the current $420 million budget, a cut that legal services advocates said would force draconian cuts in services. The corporation funds local agencies that provide civil legal services for low-income families nationwide. The corporation has survived several belt-tightening efforts that targeted its budget since it was founded in 1974.
LSC board chairman John Levi said in a written statement today, "We greatly appreciate the proposed budget increase sent to the Congress by President Obama. All of us in this country must make sure that our justice system works for the millions of Americans who are among the most vulnerable in our society and that we fulfill our national promise of equal access to justice. Civil legal assistance goes to the heart of the fairness of our justice system, and in all economic times we must recognize the importance of the proper functioning of our civil justice system as a central value of the country.”
The corporation had actually asked for $516.5 million for next year, citing the sharp increase in the need for legal services by the poor. "More people need legal services than ever because of the recession, high unemployment, and the slow economic recovery," said president James Sandman. Budgets of legal services agencies have also been hard hit by the recession-fueled decrease in revenue from IOLTA or Interest on Lawyers' Trust Accounts.