Proposed $75 Million Budget Cut Would Devastate Legal Aid to Poor

February 9, 2011


Washington, DC - A congressional proposal to cut $75 million from the Legal Services Corporation’s (LSC) budget would decimate civil legal aid to low-income Americans at a time when it is most needed by the tens of millions suffering economic hardship.

The proposed $75 million funding cut would represent a 17 percent reduction from the White House’s Fiscal Year 2011 budget request of $435 million for LSC and a 14 percent decline from LSC’s current funding level, $420 million. The proposed cutback was announced today by the House Appropriations Committee as part of its Continuing Resolution to fund federal agencies and programs through the remainder of Fiscal Year 2011.

“The Constitution calls for establishing justice in its very first line, even before mentioning the common defense. Our Pledge of Allegiance proclaims our national commitment to ‘justice for all.’ Hard times test our values, and we cannot sacrifice equal access to justice to any year’s fiscal pressures,” LSC President James J. Sandman said.

LSC Board Chairman John G. Levi said, “Justice is a hollow promise without LSC. The Corporation and its national legal services network turn the abstraction of equal access to justice into a living, everyday reality for millions of low-income Americans. They are the most vulnerable in our society, and it is our responsibility as a country to make sure that our justice system works for them irrespective of the state of the national economy.”

The impact of the proposed reduction at the mid-point of a fiscal year would be devastating to the 136 nonprofit legal aid programs across the nation that receive funding from LSC. The proposed cut could result in the layoffs of at least 300 legal aid staff attorneys who help victims of domestic violence, keep families in their homes by averting unlawful foreclosures and evictions, help veterans and the disabled obtain benefits, protect the elderly and others from consumer fraud, and provide other services in civil cases. Programs would be forced to turn away cases except for those involving immediate issues of safety and security, and many programs serving rural areas would be forced to close offices.
Since the 2008 recession, LSC-funded programs have been overwhelmed with requests for legal assistance by low-income Americans at risk of losing their livelihoods and their homes. A cut in federal funds would come at a time when legal aid programs have seen significant reductions in other sources of funding, such as Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts and state-based resources.

LSC-funded programs touch the lives of about 8 million Americans annually. Programs close cases involving households with about 2.3 million people each year. Another 5 million receive legal information at self-help centers and community presentations that explain legal forms and procedures or were provided a referral for pro bono assistance and other legal services.

Established in 1974, LSC is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation that receives an annual appropriation from Congress to promote equal access to justice and to provide for high-quality civil legal assistance to low-income individuals and families. About 95 percent of the appropriation is distributed as grants to the 136 legal aid programs. The programs provide legal services to persons at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty guideline.

Legal Services Corporation (LSC) is an independent nonprofit established by Congress in 1974 to provide financial support for civil legal aid to low-income Americans. The Corporation currently provides funding to 132 independent nonprofit legal aid programs in every state, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories.