LSC requested an appropriation of $486,000,000 for FY 2014 based on LSC’s assessment of the need for legal aid and the decline in some non-LSC funding sources. Approximately 95 percent, or $461.3 million, of this amount would fund grants to legal aid organizations serving indigent clients. The request also includes $5 million for a new grant encouraging innovations in the delivery of pro bono legal services.
Providing civil legal services to the poor consistently yields significant economic benefits for communities and government alike. These benefits accrue from clients’ reduced reliance on other, more costly types of governmental aid and their enhanced ability to participate in the economic marketplace.
A number of states have recently studied the economic benefits of providing civil legal services to low-income constituents. For example, the Texas Access to Justice Foundation’s February 2013 report found that every dollar spent on legal aid generated an estimated $7.48 in consumer spending (for a total of $722.4 million annually), $3.59 in increased production of goods and services ($346.9 million annually), and $2.22 in personal income. Civil legal aid also generated about 4,528 jobs and $47.5 million in yearly revenues for Texas governmental entities.
Further economic benefits cited in several of the state reports include reductions in the health care costs of treating victims of domestic violence, savings in social services costs resulting from increased child support recoveries, and tax revenues from jobs preserved as a result of legal aid employment cases.
LSC’s grantees have offices in every congressional district across America and work to eliminate the justice gap by providing quality legal counsel—at no cost—to low-income constituents. LSC grantees handle the basic civil legal needs of the poor, addressing matters involving safety, subsistence, and family stability:
The number of constituents eligible for LSC-funded legal assistance, i.e. those living at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty line ($13,963 for an individual and $28,813 for a family of four), continues to be at an all-time high. Nearly one in five—61.8 million Americans—are eligible for services, a 21 percent increase since 2007.
At the same time, funding for civil legal aid is declining. LSC received its largest appropriation, $420 million, in FY 2010. Since that time, LSC’s appropriation has been reduced by more than 17 percent, the devastating effects of which have been compounded by sequestration. In addition, 27 states cut funding for legal aid in 2012, some by more than 15 percent. And revenue from Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts (IOLTA) programs—a source of significant support for civil legal aid providers—has collapsed due to historically low interest rates, falling 54.4 percent from its 2008 levels.
LSC grantees have worked tirelessly to leverage their limited resources through public-private-partnerships, pro bono contributions, technology, and other creative delivery systems to maintain the same level of client services as in years past. But reduced funding has taken its toll. LSC grantees can no longer provide more services with less funding.
In 2012, LSC-funded programs closed 809,830 cases—a 10 percent decline from the previous year. That reduction reflects 5.5 percent fewer domestic abuse cases; 10.1 percent fewer child custody and visitation cases; 13.5 percent fewer child support cases; 9.6 percent fewer paternity cases; 10.7 percent fewer landlord/tenant cases; 22.8 percent fewer housing discrimination cases; and 38.7 percent fewer mental health/civil commitment cases.
Between 2010 and 2012, 923 full-time positions—385 attorneys, 180 paralegals, and 358 support staff—were eliminated due to funding cuts. This represents a 10.3 percent loss of legal aid staff in just two years. LSC grantees also closed 30 offices and reduced the level of services offered.
LSC’s leadership is committed to strong management and prudent stewardship of federal funds. Since the Board of Directors’ confirmation in 2010, LSC has taken the following actions to improve its performance, enhance fiscal responsibility, and leverage the federal investment in legal services with private support:
Goal #1: Maximize the availability, quality, and effectiveness of the civil legal services that LSC grantees provide to eligible low-income individuals.
Goal #2: Become a leading voice for access to justice and quality legal assistance in the United States.
Goal #3: Achieve the highest standards of fiscal responsibility, both for LSC and its grantees.
With millions of Americans in poverty or at risk of sliding into poverty, increased appropriations for civil legal aid have never been more critical. In FY 2014, Increased funding will help meet the critical needs of grantees and enable LSC to serve as the leading voice for civil legal aid to poor Americans while achieving high standards of fiscal responsibility.