Federal funding has long been the cornerstone for legal aid, and essential to fulfilling our nation’s promise of equal justice for all. We all understand that the rule of law is in jeopardy when the protections of the law are not available to increasingly large numbers of low-income citizens—especially victims of domestic abuse, the elderly and people facing the loss of their homes. The nation’s poverty population has never been this large, and, as a consequence, requests for civil legal assistance are increasing.
As a result of the economy and funding squeezes at state and national levels, 2012 is clearly going to be daunting for the 136 nonprofit legal aid programs funded by the Legal Services Corporation. This week’s House-Senate conference agreement, while providing $322.4 million for LSC grants, nevertheless represents an 18 percent reduction in basic field funding over the last eight months. Many LSC-funded programs will have no choice but to lay off staff and reduce the legal assistance they provide low-income Americans.
LSC is striving to do its part by expanding partnerships and collaborations to promote access to justice. To enhance support for legal services, the Board established a Pro Bono Task Force to identify innovative practices that can help increase pro bono services to low-income Americans and involve more law firms, law schools and others in the work of LSC programs. We are exploring how to more effectively use technology to serve rural areas and provide legal information and court forms online.
We all understand the competing priorities within our government. This is not the time, however, to put at risk the orderly administration of our civil justice system. It is essential that we and the Congress work to restore and enhance funding to LSC.