Updated 3:18 p.m.
Congressional committees have approved budget proposals for Legal Services Corp. but did little to clear up whether the nation's civil legal service providers will take yet another hit next year.
On one hand, the House Appropriations Committee approved a bill last week that includes $300 million for LSC for the fiscal year beginning on Oct. 1. That's down $28 million from what the panel approved last year amid continued budget constraints on Capitol Hill.
But on the other hand, a Senate appropriations panel approved $430 million for LSC, a $28 million increase from what it approved last year and right in line with the White House budget.
The Senate and House have traditionally resolved their differences in a budget conference by splitting the two figures down the middle. That outcome would leave LSC, the largest source of financial support nationwide for civil legal aid, with about the same $340 million budget as this year.
The LSC budget has been slashed each year since Fiscal Year 2010, forcing legal aid agencies across the country to eliminate more than 1,000 staff positions and close nearly 30 offices. The agency has gone from a historic high of $420 million in Fiscal Year 2010 to $340 million in Fiscal Year 2013.
However, that proposed funding level would restore the additional $16.3 million cut LSC drew this year—about 5 percent of its budget—as part of $85 billion in automatic and arbitrary forced cuts from Congress, called sequestration.
Representatives Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and Chakah Fattah (D-Pa.), the chairman and ranking member of the House subcommittee that crafted the budget bill, spoke of their desire to increase funding for LSC during the budget conference, the LSC said in a written statement.
"There are some areas like legal services, which we hope at some point we can improve the numbers," Fattah said during debate on the appropriations bill.
In a statement, LSC President Jim Sandman thanked the House and Senate for "ongoing support of LSC despite a very challenging budget climate."
"They know that it is not enough to have a system of laws if millions of our citizens do not have meaningful access to that system," Sandman said.