Legal Services Corporation Applauds Restoration of the Office for Access to Justice and Release of the Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable Report
Director of Communications and Media Relations
WASHINGTON – The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) today applauded the Department of Justice’s restoration of a standalone Office for Access to Justice and the release of the Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable Report on the pandemic’s challenges to access to justice.
The office will be located within the Justice Department and tasked with improving the federal government’s understanding of and capacity to address the urgent legal needs of communities across America. The Justice Department said today’s announcement is the first step in Attorney General Merrick B. Garland’s strategic plan to expand the emphasis on access to justice within the department and throughout the federal government.
The report lays out the significant barriers across legal systems facing Americans, including in the areas of housing and evictions, healthcare, public benefits, consumer protection, immigration and criminal justice. It also describes key lessons learned and creative innovations during the pandemic to advance access to government programs. Twenty-eight agencies, along with LSC, came together as part of the Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable to explore COVID-19’s impact on access to policies, programs, initiatives and services across the government for the report.
“The Roundtable report, ‘Access to Justice in the Age of COVID-19,’ aptly portrays how the pandemic has exacerbated longstanding challenges with housing insecurity, unemployment, medical debt, domestic violence, and access to the courts,” said LSC President Ronald S. Flagg. “The report also highlights the indispensable role America’s legal aid providers play in helping low-income Americans respond to these challenges – in particular helping to keep families secure in their homes while facing heightened risks of eviction.”
Flagg, who participated in the White House Summit on Eviction Prevention in June, is quoted in the report. He describes legal services organizations’ vital role in stemming an eviction surge:
“Nearly all the 50 or so metro area teams participating in this [White House Summit] to head off evictions include legal aid providers. And that’s critical to the success of our efforts. None of the policy initiatives we have been talking about – the eviction moratoria, eviction diversion programs, or distribution of rental assistance – none of those policy initiatives are self-executing. The success of those initiatives requires assistance to ensure that the benefits Congress, state and local governments intend to distribute in fact reach the tenants and landlords who are the intended beneficiaries. Legal aid programs provide that assistance.”
The Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable’s report uses LSC research and surveys to illustrate challenges faced by low-income Americans with civil legal issues. It cites LSC's 2017 Justice Gap Report to demonstrate that access-to-justice barriers predate the pandemic. For example, LSC’s finding that 86% of the civil legal problems reported by low-income Americans received inadequate or no legal help. The report also cities LSC surveys of its grantees that show how the pandemic has drastically exacerbated the need for legal help and strained existing legal aid resources.
“Legal services play a critical role in broadening the accessibility of Federal relief programs and making them accessible to the people who need them most,” the report notes. It makes it clear that access-to-justice efforts are central to ensuring the effectiveness of virtually all government and civic initiatives.
The Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable first convened nearly a decade ago to improve outcomes across federal programs by incorporating access to justice. President Obama issued a presidential memorandum in 2015 to elevate the interagency effort as a White House initiative, officially establishing the Roundtable. Earlier this year, President Biden reinvigorated the Roundtable as a White House initiative, to be co-chaired by White House Counsel Dana Remus and Attorney General Garland.