LSC Updates - February 5, 2009
New York Times Urges Increase in LSC Funding
The Associated Press is the latest news outlet to draw national attention to the current funding crisis confronting America's legal aid programs. Less than a week after the New York Times first reported on the problem of dwindling revenue from Interest on Lawyers' Trust Accounts (IOLTA)-the second largest single source of legal aid funding-the Associated Press published an article on the subject, which appeared on the websites of nearly 200 media outlets, including CBS News, CNBC.com and FOX News.
The article, "Poor Economy Hits Courts, Hurts Programs for Poor," by Steve Karnowski, highlights the fact that IOLTA dollars are drying up in some states and forcing legal aid programs to lay off staff-just when demand for their services is increasing. And, says LSC President Helaine M. Barnett in the article, "We don't see the end in sight."
The article notes that LSC is waiting to learn if Congress will approve an 11 percent funding increase for LSC when it revisits the FY 2009 appropriations process in the coming months-something the New York Times urged it to do in a Feb. 2 editorial. The piece, "Sins of Omission: The Forgotten Poor," laments the fact that LSC funding for foreclosure-related legal aid, which was included in an earlier stimulus bill, is not included in the version currently under debate on Capitol Hill. The Times urges Congress to increase funding for LSC-a "proven national program"-by some means.
"Given the tough times-underfunded programs and ever more desperate clients-more money is needed," says the Times. "Congress still has the opportunity to renew [LSC's] regular appropriation in a coming omnibus budget bill, but it must bolster that with extra support for the program."
Local news organizations and state bar journals around the country continue to cover the story as well.
- In Arizona, the Phoenix Business Journal reports that the three LSC-funded programs in the state-Community Legal Services, DNA-People's Legal Services and Southern Arizona Legal Aid-are laying off staff, closing offices, and reducing operating hours to save money in response to the crisis.
- In Minnesota, the state bar reports that the legislature is considering cutting about $1.6 million in funding for legal aid, the equivalent of 25 full-time lawyers, according to Jeremy Lane, executive director of Mid-Minnesota Legal Services.
- In Mississippi, the Clarion Ledger reports that Ben Cole, executive director of North Mississippi Rural Legal Services, is seeing an increase in the number of people who need help as a result of job losses, housing foreclosures and consumer debt, but the program does not have the resources to help them.
- In Oregon, the state bar reports that IOLTA revenue for 2009 is projected to be one-third of what it was in 2007, just as Legal Aid Services of Oregon is seeing "a very marked increase in the need for services in the last six months or so," according to executive director Thomas Matsuda.
- In Pennsylvania, the Intelligencer reports that the phones at Legal Aid of Southeastern Pennsylvania are ringing off the hook while the organization is freezing salaries, canceling contributions to staff retirement funds and is contemplating scaling down to a four-day workweek.
LSC's Board of Directors met at LSC headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 30-31 for the group's Annual Meeting for 2009.
In lieu of the Board's usual visit to an LSC grantee, the meeting began with a series of presentations by LSC staff on substantive areas of the Corporation's work. Topics included the structure and goals of oversight visits by LSC's Office of Program Performance and training sessions by the Office of Compliance and Enforcement, the new National Disaster Legal Aid website that LSC helped launch, and the success of the recent Technology Initiative Grants Conference in Austin, Texas.
Following the presentations, the Board's official work began with the meeting of the Provision for the Delivery of Legal Services Committee. The group heard from staff of LSC's Office of Program Performance regarding efforts to encourage grantees to increase the involvement of private attorneys in the delivery of services to their clients. The committee also continued to discuss the establishment of a program to provide national recognition to private attorneys who serve clients of LSC-funded programs. The group heard presentations on LSC's Pilot Loan Repayment Assistance Program, Native American funding issues, and the Corporation's new pilot program with the College of Law Practice Management.
The committee voted to recommend that the full Board change the name of the Pilot Loan Repayment Assistance Program to the Herbert S. Garten Pilot Loan Repayment Assistance Program. Garten, a member of LSC's Board and a partner in the Maryland law firm of Fedder & Garten, was recognized for his consistent support of the program and was chosen by unanimous vote of the committee for the honor.
The meeting of the Operations and Regulations Committee featured a panel presentation by current and former Chairpersons of the Boards of Directors of LSC-funded programs on the role of grantee boards in governance and oversight of LSC-funded programs. Members of the panel were Michael Doucette from the Virginia Legal Aid Society, Diane Kutzko from Iowa Legal Aid, Marjorie Anne McDiarmid from Legal Aid of West Virginia, Fern Schair from Legal Services NYC, and Robert Goodin from Bay Area Legal Aid (Calif.), who participated via video conference. Topics of discussion included the pros and cons of term limits for board members, the common difficulty in recruiting and retaining client-eligible board members, and suggestions for how LSC could help grantee boards by, for example, producing training materials and sharing best practices. A transcript of the session will be made available on LSC's website, www.lsc.gov, in mid-February.
The committee also discussed a proposed change to LSC's regulation to increase financial eligibility limits for persons in Presidential declared disaster areas, but took no action. Staff from LSC's Office of Inspector General made a presentation on the responsibilities of independent public accountants and related OIG oversight, with comment from LSC management.
In other committee news, the Audit Committee heard a presentation on LSC's FY 2008 annual financial audit from the Corporation's outside auditor, who reported that LSC had again received a clean financial audit. The committee also discussed Board processes for handling accounting, internal control, and auditing issues reported by LSC staff. The Governance and Performance Review Committee discussed self-assessment documents for individual board members and the full board, and heard a presentation from LSC staff on transition planning for a new Board of Directors. The Finance Committee heard presentations from LSC staff on the status of LSC's FY 2009 appropriation and LSC's financial reports for the first three months of 2009. The committee was presented with amendments to the temporary operating budget for FY 2009, which it voted to recommend that the full Board adopt.
The meeting of the full Board began with Chairman Frank Strickland recognizing Helaine M. Barnett as the longest serving LSC President in the Corporation's history, and thanking her for her service. Barnett started at LSC in January 2004. Strickland also recognized fellow Board member Herb Garten for his appointment to the Maryland Access to Justice Commission and Lillian BeVier for receiving an award for her service to a hospital in Charlottesville, Va. (see article below for more information.) The Board then heard a report from President Barnett on the latest developments at LSC, including plans to update LSC's Justice Gap report, the establishment of advisory groups on private attorney involvement and fiscal operations issues, LSC's second national conference call on foreclosure-related legal aid provided by LSC grantees, and Barnett's recent appearance before a hearing of the Texas Supreme Court on access to justice. The Board also heard a report from LSC's Inspector General on developments in his office.
The Board then heard reports from its committees. Following the report from the Provision Committee, the Board voted unanimously to rename LSC's Pilot Loan Repayment Assistance Program as the Herbert S. Garten Pilot Loan Repayment Assistance Program. From the Finance Committee, the Board voted unanimously to adopt the amended temporary operating budget for LSC. The Board noted that the work of the Ad Hoc Committee, created to address issues from two Government Accountability Reports from 2007, was complete. The Board voted to dissolve the committee and expressed appreciation for all their work. The Board also voted unanimously to adopt a risk management program for the Corporation.
LSC President Helaine M. Barnett led a conference call with legal services, consumer and poverty law organizations on January 29 and pledged to join in efforts to improve the sharing of information on activities to ease the foreclosure crisis affecting low-income Americans. The conference call was the second sponsored by LSC to discuss legal aid and equal justice initiatives that might address the crisis.
Participants in the January conference call described the increase in requests from homeowners and renters for foreclosure assistance, the role that pro bono attorneys may play in helping low-income homeowners, options for funding foreclosure assistance, and proposed legislation in Congress aimed at addressing the foreclosure and housing crisis.
Twenty-one organizations joined in the teleconference, including the American Bar Association, the Center for Responsible Lending, National Association of Consumer Advocates, National Consumer Law Center, National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, National Legal Aid & Defenders Association, Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland, the Shriver National Center on Poverty Law and representatives of LSC-funded programs in California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, New York and Tennessee.
In addition to LSC President Barnett, Karen Sarjeant, Michael Genz and John Constance represented the Corporation on the conference call. Participants agreed to hold another call in two months.
If you could not attend LSC's Ninth Annual Technology Initiative Grants Conference this year, you can still benefit from the wealth of knowledge and expertise on display there. For those who like the hands-on approach, PowerPoint presentations and other handouts from the conference are available online at www.tig.lsc.gov. If you prefer the first-person experience, look no further than Illinois Legal Aid Online, which is hosting webcasts of the conference sessions on its website, www.illinoislegaladvocate.org.
This year's conference had 115 attendees and featured 25 sessions on topics ranging from fundraising during a recession (yes you can!, according to presenters) to tools for engaging court leadership.
Lillian R. BeVier, Vice Chairman of LSC's Board of Directors and a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law, has received the Henry B. Thielbar Leadership in Governance Award from the Board of Trustees of the Martha Jefferson Hospital of Charlottesville, Va. According to the Charlottesville Daily Progress, BeVier received the award for her leadership and dedication to the hospital, especially during the planning of the new building. The award recognizes a special individual who has significantly furthered the mission of the hospital through outstanding service, commitment and leadership over time.
LSC has issued its income eligibility guidelines for 2009, which establish maximum income levels for individuals and families to be eligible for LSC-funded services. LSC's guidelines are based on 125 percent of the federal poverty level as established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
LSC has also published a chart listing income levels that are 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, to help LSC-funded programs assess income eligibility in certain limited cases.
To the Editor:
Re "Interest Rate Drop Has Dire Results for Legal Aid Groups" (news article, Jan. 19):
Your article on the precipitous decline in financing and proposed further cuts for civil legal services draws welcome attention to this all-too-undervalued work.
Our justice system is flawed because it holds out the promise of equal justice for all and yet denies poor people meaningful access to the courts in civil legal matters when they cannot afford legal help.
In 2006, the American Bar Association called for the right long-term solution-recognition of a right to counsel in civil legal proceedings "where basic human needs are at stake, such as those involving shelter, sustenance, safety, health or child custody."
In the short term-with the legal problems of the poor escalating as rapidly as the economy is declining-government should expand, not contract, financing for civil legal services.
Legal Services NYC
New York, Jan. 21, 2009
The Atlanta Legal Aid Society is co-sponsoring a symposium on Oct. 23, 2009, to mark the tenth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Olmstead v. L.C., the landmark disability rights law that is often referred to as the Brown v. Board for the disabled.
Lawyers from the Atlanta Legal Aid Society represented the clients in the case, which established that unnecessary institutionalization of the disabled constitutes discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and is illegal.
The symposium will examine the current status of the right of disabled individuals to receive services in community-based settings and explore next steps in implementing the Olmstead decision. The Georgia State University College of Law, another co-sponsor of the event, is soliciting papers, essays, and articles for the symposium, and will publish some of them in the Georgia State University Law Review.
The Fort Worth-based Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas (LANWT) has announced that it is seeking a CEO. The legal aid program serves low-income people in 114 counties in the Panhandle, North Central and West Texas. According to the program's announcement, LANWT is seeking "an experienced leader who is passionate about its mission ´to ensure justice for people living in poverty through the provision of high quality legal representation and to further the ends of justice and improve the lives of low income people through the rule of law.' This leader will work with a diverse and dedicated Board of Directors, an active management team, and an experienced and committed staff. The next CEO of Legal Aid will have the opportunity to fully realize the potential of this recently merged organization, poised to achieve fiscal strength, excellent legal services, and a leadership role throughout Texas and the country."
The Legal Services Project of the American Bar Association's Section of Litigation is hosting a two-day fundraising training session for a limited number of legal aid programs in conjunction with the Section's annual conference in Atlanta, Ga., on April 30 and May 1.
The training session is an annual event designed to provide legal aid staff and their private attorney partners with advice and counsel from experienced fundraisers on how to conduct and sustain an effective private bar fundraising campaign. According to the Section, more than 80 organizations have participated in these training sessions and now raise over $5 million each year in bar campaigns.
A maximum of nine legal aid programs will be allowed to attend the training. Each will receive a total of $700 to cover transportation and lodging costs. Applications to participate are due by February 13.
The Legal Services National Technology Assistance Project (LSNTAP) is hosting two free upcoming training sessions for legal aid programs-one for advanced users of the LegalMeetings program on Feb. 11 and one on using the new LSNTAP Help Desk on Feb. 20.
The LegalMeetings session will provide detailed information on recording, editing and posting LegalMeetings events so that others can easily access them online. It is recommended for executive directors, managers, legal advocates, and system administrators. The Help Desk session will introduce legal aid staff to this new service and is recommended for managers, legal advocates, and paralegals.
The LSC Resource Information (LRI) is an online clearinghouse of best practices, model projects, and other resources for LSC-funded programs.
Legal Aid of Arkansas' Executive Director Succession Plan
Legal Aid of Arkansas has developed a Succession Plan for the Executive Director position. The Plan addresses protocols for both unanticipated/temporary changes and permanent changes. The plan describes the different protocols for each situation and the processes related to them. The plan covers topics like appointing an interim director, appointment of a transition team, and the establishment of a search committee.
Legal aid is about helping ordinary people with real-life problems. Client stories illustrate the day-to-day struggles-and victories-of poor Americans seeking justice under law.
Medical-Legal Partnership Makes a Difference for Sick Infant
Kim Archer, Tulsa World (OK) – January 27, 2009
When a Tulsa infant's foster parents took their child for a checkup at the OU Schusterman Clinic recently, they happened to mention to the pediatrician that their heat wasn't working.
It was below freezing outside.
And although they had complained to their landlord, their house was still cold.
That's when Adrienne Watt stepped in. She is the attorney for the Medical-Legal Partnership for Children, a new project aimed at improving child health by breaking through legal barriers.
"It was super cold outside at that time," she said. "I was really worried."
Watt wrote to the family's landlord to inform him that the family is entitled to heat under the law. Within 48 hours, the landlord installed a new furnace in the home.
"Sometimes it [a situation] can be taken care of by a letter," she said. "Other times, I need to do more."
Amid emerging research that shows a link between adverse childhood experiences and health and behavioral outcomes in adulthood, health clinics across the country are launching programs such as the Medical-Legal Partnership for Children at OU-Tulsa.
The University of Oklahoma and Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma implemented the first such program in the state and one of only a handful in the Southwest. It is one of 72 similar programs nationwide, most of which are on the East or West coasts.