More than a dozen civil legal services organizations in the District of Columbia will receive grants totaling $3.17 million, the D.C. Bar Foundation announced yesterday. The grants come as a number of local organizations cope with the one-two punch of shrinking revenues and growing need.
The annual Access to Justice grants are funded by the D.C. Council and distributed by the D.C. Bar Foundation. This year's recipients include three new programs that are aimed at helping low-wage workers, immigrant communities and litigants making first contact with a lawyer.
"We continue to be very, very impressed with the creativity and effectiveness of all of the programs that have been funded since the beginning of the Access to Justice initiative," said Katia Garrett, executive director of the foundation. The programs are located "deep within communities of need and also at what I call the point of crisis, with our court-based legal services grants," she said.
The single largest grant, $570,000, went to a joint project run by the Legal Aid Society for D.C. and Bread for the City to fund legal services at the District of Columbia Superior Court for litigants in landlord-tenant cases.
Other large grants included $280,000 to help the Neighborhood Legal Services Program support an office in the District's Ward 7; $265,000 for another joint project by Legal Aid and Bread for the City to provide in-court legal services in child support cases; and $255,000 for Ayuda's legal interpreter services program.
One of three new programs funded this year included Ayuda's Project END, or Eradicate Notario Deceit. Notarios in many Latin American countries can provide certain legal services. Individuals calling themselves notarios who fraudulently claim they can provide legal services in the United States have been a growing problem in immigrant communities, said Ayuda staff attorney Cori Alonso-Yoder.
The $74,115 grant will fund a new staff attorney to work with clients defrauded by notarios. Alonso-Yoder said that help could mean filing a civil complaint for fraud, working with law enforcement to bring criminal charges, or working to fix botched immigration matters.
"It allows us to be that lawyer and instill in the client who has already been defrauded that there is still justice that can be obtained," Alonso-Yoder said. "We are really excited and we think this project is a wonderful model that can hopefully be emulated nationwide." It's also Ayuda's 40th anniversary this week, so the grant was an especially welcome anniversary gift of sorts, she said.
The D.C. Employment Justice Center received a first-time grant of $31,610 to expand a workers' rights clinic in the Southeast section of the city. The center runs a clinic at Bread for the City's southeast office and executive director Barbara Kavanaugh said the money will allow it to offer more hours and do outreach.
"We recognize that were very fortunate and are grateful for funding that allows us to expand our program," Kavanaugh said.
The third new program to receive funding is the Neighborhood Legal Services Program's Brief Services Unit, which provides first-contact intake services for clients. The unit, which will receive a $67,725, does triage for potential clients, freeing up the nonprofit's staff attorneys.