December 8, 2010
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Washington, DC -- The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) has awarded technology grants to make it easier for veterans to seek disability benefits, for the public to obtain legal information via mobile phone applications, and for Spanish-speaking persons to apply for civil legal assistance, LSC President Victor M. Fortuno announced today.
The projects are part of 30 grants to expand and enhance access to civil legal services that were recently made through LSC's Technology Initiative Grants (TIG) program. Other grants are pending, and when all are completed, about $3.3 million will be awarded to nonprofit legal aid providers in 25 states.
"Our nation faces a crisis in legal representation, and TIG is a continuing effort at LSC to better harness technology to expand and enhance access to legal services. Self-help guides and videos and legal information help people navigate the legal system and achieve fair treatment," LSC President Fortuno said.
LSC was established in 1974 as an independent nonprofit corporation to promote equal access to justice and to support the provision of high-quality civil legal assistance to low-income Americans. The Corporation, which is funded through an annual appropriation by the Congress, distributes grants to 136 independent nonprofit legal aid programs with more than 900 offices across the country.
After being briefed by the LSC Office of Inspector General on audit work it had in progress, LSC Management postponed the making of any new TIG awards and undertook an internal review of the TIG program. Prior to making the 2010 awards, LSC Management implemented administrative improvements to the TIG program and created an in-house, interoffice task force to continue to study and develop further improvements in the oversight of TIG.
Since its inception in 2000, TIG has helped fund a nationwide network of state websites that provide free legal information and connect low-income Americans to local legal aid programs. Millions of Americans also are provided with self-help information and court forms through the websites.
Last month, at an access to legal services event hosted by Vice President Biden, LSC formally launched StatesideLegal.org, funded by TIG in 2009 and developed by Pine Tree Legal Assistance, the LSC-funded program in Maine. The new website explains legal and military terms in a straightforward and easy-to-understand way, and videos and interactive forms help veterans advocate for themselves. Information on the website covers such topics as disability benefits, employment and legal protections for service members confronted with foreclosure proceedings.
As part of the 2010 grants, TIG will provide funds to Pine Tree to expand StatesideLegal.org's content and develop a new library of legal resources for professionals working with low-income veterans and military families. TIG also will fund a project by the Legal Aid Society of Louisville, Ky., to automate and simplify the initial application for disability compensation, helping veterans improve the quality of their application to obtain benefits.
TIG, in recognition of changing consumer practices, has awarded grants for the development of mobile phone applications to deliver legal information to the public and to provide support for private attorneys who volunteer at local legal aid offices. Pine Tree will develop the smart phone application and Montana Legal Services Association will create a mobile website platform to provide information from MontanaLawHelp.org, a website that provides legal information and resources. Once the Montana platform is developed for mobile phones and handheld computers, TIG will encourage the 27 other states with LawHelp website to replicate the mobile version.
In addition, new TIG projects will expand legal information for Spanish-speaking persons and persons with limited English proficiency. The Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago was awarded a grant to develop a comprehensive Spanish-language version of Illinois Legal Aid Online, which provides legal information for the public and materials for attorneys. The Center for Arkansas Legal Services will develop Spanish-language content for a statewide legal website in Arkansas. Legal Aid of Western Ohio will build a Spanish version of its legal aid online intake application, and the Northwest Justice Project, in collaboration with the Washington State Coalition for Language Access, will create web-based training modules for attorneys on language access issues.
Other TIG awards will expand the availability of forms used in child-custody pleadings and in domestic violence, housing, disability and public benefits law. To help increase access to online legal aid self-help and referral resources, the Legal Aid Society of Louisville, in collaboration with the Minnesota Legal Services Coalition, will build an Internet portal for public libraries and law libraries that directs library patrons to legal services information. West Tennessee Legal Services also will undertake an effort to create a model library partnership with that state's public libraries to increase access to civil legal assistance for low-income Tennesseans. Colorado Legal Services will develop an online library of interactive website content tailored to address the legal needs of people with disabilities, including the elderly.