September 13, 2011
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Washington, DC—The U.S. Census Bureau released its official 2010 statistics on poverty this morning, and the data show that nearly one in five Americans qualifies for civil legal assistance at the legal aid offices funded by the Legal Services Corporation (LSC). The number of Americans now eligible for legal services is staggering: more than 60.4 million, up 3.6 million from the prior year.
These 60 million Americans had incomes at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty line—$13,613 for an individual and $27,938 for a family of four.
Our concern is more than mere numbers. Across the country, local legal aid offices are handling civil matters that go to the very heart of health, safety and security of many of our citizens and their families, from fighting to save homes and help victims of domestic violence to addressing the legal needs of the elderly and handling the myriad of legal issues confronting veterans on their return from overseas.
In this challenging environment, legal aid offices are overwhelmed with requests for assistance and are stretched thin because of inadequate resources and funding. In the coming days, we will urge Congress to increase federal funding for legal services so that the vital work of legal aid offices is not further impaired by even greater layoffs of attorneys, paralegals and support staff.
LSC is striving to do its part to expand legal services. The LSC Board has established a Pro Bono Task Force to explore new ways of involving private attorneys in the work of legal aid programs. LSC has provided technology funding for a new website, StatesideLegal.org, which provides information for veterans and military families. Many LSC-funded programs also have created special projects to help low-income Americans facing foreclosure and joined in medical-legal partnerships to improve health outcomes for children and families. Legal aid often averts more costly interventions by state and local agencies, and strengthens the orderly functioning of our civil justice system.
James Madison, the father of the Constitution, wrote in 1788 that “justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society. It ever has been and ever will be pursued until it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit.” At LSC, we are committed to ensuring that America delivers on its promise of equal access to justice.