Mr. Chairman, Congressman Frelinghuysen, and Members of the Subcommittee, I welcome this opportunity to testify before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies. I speak to you today on behalf of the Board of Directors of the Legal Services Corporation, which I have chaired for nearly four years.
I will begin by thanking you for the budget increase LSC received this year and for the bipartisan support that made it possible. This is our first budget increase since 2003 and it is badly needed. If LSC is to fulfill its mission, it must have more resources.
Congress has entrusted the Legal Services Corporation with a dual mission: to promote equal access to justice and to provide high-quality civil legal assistance to low-income Americans. It is a mission of the utmost importance, fundamental to the American way of life.
By law, LSC's Board is bipartisan and is appointed by the President, with the advice and consent of the Senate. The Board sets LSC's budget mark. Our 2008 budget request, the subject of today's hearing, is grounded in our recognition that the need for more resources is critical.
In October 2005, LSC issued the Justice Gap Report. Unanimously approved by the Board, this was truly a groundbreaking report-the first nationwide, comprehensive analysis of the number of people LSC-funded programs turn away due to lack of resources.
The findings were disturbing, but not surprising: 50 percent of the people who sought help from LSC-funded programs-and were eligible to receive it-were turned away because the programs lacked the resources to serve them. Our analysis was based on very conservative assumptions and, if anything, understates the unmet need.
To help close the justice gap, LSC is requesting $430 million for FY2008, $82 million more than this year. More than 95 percent of the money would go directly to local programs: $407 million as basic field grants, $5 million as technology grants, and $1 million as loan repayment assistance-to help recruit and retain legal aid lawyers.
This year, LSC launched a major initiative to enhance pro bono partnerships between LSC-funded programs and the private bar. I am deeply committed to pro bono work both personally and professionally. My involvement in legal aid began more than 20 years ago, when in conjunction with the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, I helped mobilize 400 volunteer lawyers to provide pro bono representation to more than 800 Cubans detained at the federal prison in Atlanta.
But pro bono alone cannot close the justice gap-it is far too large. Fifty million Americans are eligible for civil legal aid, including some 13 million children-one in five children in America.
The Board is mindful of its responsibility: to ensure that LSC operates efficiently and effectively, and that LSC-funded programs adhere to the highest standards of quality and comply with Congressional restrictions on program operations. Our views on the need for more funding are informed by our visits to LSC-funded programs.
Each year, the Board meets at least four times-in Washington, DC, and in three other locations with LSC-funded programs. We make our program visit the central part of each meeting, including reports from actual clients who have been represented by lawyers employed by the local or statewide program. Last year, for example, we met in St. Louis, Missouri, and visited Legal Services of Eastern Missouri. We also met in Providence, Rhode Island, and Charleston, West Virginia, both of which have statewide programs.
During our visits, we have seen firsthand the real-life successes achieved by LSC programs providing civil legal assistance to the poor. We have also learned about the tragedy of so many poor people being denied access to justice due to limited resources.
America promises "justice for all," not just those who can afford to pay for it. "Justice for all" is fundamental to the American way of life and fundamental to the rule of law.
LSC's Board believes the justice gap is unacceptable-turning away 50 percent of those seeking help from LSC-funded programs. We hope that Congress shares our view.
On behalf of the Board of Directors of the Legal Services Corporation, I urge this Subcommittee to help close the justice gap by approving our 2008 budget request for $430 million.