Fiscal Year 2024 Budget Request
LSC requests $1.576 billion for FY 2024, an increase of $313 million over LSC’s FY 2023 budget request. This recommendation considers the sustained impact of COVID-19 on low-income Americans. We now know that more than 33% of unmet legal needs are directly related to COVID-19 and that the legal needs of low-income people have only been exacerbated as a result of the pandemic. Evictions are on the rise – returning to or exceeding historical averages. Debt collection and related consumer finance complaints have reached record highs. In 2021, LSC grantees closed a record number of cases involving domestic violence. As families grapple with legal needs related to or exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, we expect the number of people seeking help from LSC grantees to increase in the next several years. Yet, in 2021, even before these anticipated increases, LSC grantees were forced to turn away 49% of people eligible for services seeking help because they lacked resources to provide assistance. Without a significant additional investment in civil legal aid, the justice gap will only continue to grow.
It should be noted that for a myriad of reasons, this budget request understates the resources required to close the justice gap fully. First, this is based on the rate at which LSC grantees turn away eligible civil legal problems. This does not reflect the millions of problems that annually do not make it to legal aid providers’ doors. Second, the 2021 turn-away data reflected a period when many people became financially ineligible for legal aid because of COVID-19 emergency payments that have been discontinued. Likewise, eviction moratoria and emergency rental assistance funding that reduced the number of people subject to eviction have expired or been expended. Third, the budget request does not reflect recent increases in inflation and the possibility of a recession. This development could substantially increase the number of low-income people eligible for legal services. Fourth, the budget request does not address the chronically low level of compensation for grantee staff. Legal aid lawyers are the lowest-paid legal professionals in America – well below public defenders and other public interest lawyers. Numerous grantee executive directors have reported that those compensation levels make it increasingly difficult to attract and retain talent.
In light of these factors, LSC requests $1.576 billion for FY 2024 because it is the minimum required to enable LSC to carry out our congressional mandate “to provide high-quality legal assistance to those who would be otherwise unable to afford adequate legal counsel.”