Statement by John G. Levi, Chairman, Board of Directors, On New Federal Poverty Data

September 16, 2010

September 16, 2010


The Census Bureau released its official 2009 statistics on poverty today, and the numbers are grim and daunting.

Nearly 57 million Americans now qualify for civil legal assistance from the Legal Services Corporation, an increase of 3 million from 2008, and the highest number of people eligible for legal aid in our country in the Corporation's 35-year history. Of the 57 million, 19.6 million were children, the Census Bureau said.

These numbers are likely to continue to grow, creating even greater challenges for legal aid programs funded by LSC in every state that already have to turn away far too many low-income Americans seeking help with pressing legal problems. These new numbers underscore the importance of additional federal funding and support for initiatives that expand access to justice in our nation.

LSC-funded programs keep families together, keep roofs over their heads, and put people back on their feet. Our clients are at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty level threshold. For a family of four, that is an income ceiling of $27,563 a year.

In coming months, we will urge Congress to increase federal funding for legal services. Low-income Americans are often the first to lose jobs and homes during an economic downturn and many need legal assistance as they rebuild their lives. We also will encourage the nation's legal community to increase its volunteer pro bono work at LSC programs and we will work even harder with our partners in the judicial system to better meet the civil legal needs of the poor.

All these efforts require additional resources. We will be counting on the Congress, bar associations, foundations and our other partners to help us in meeting our mission-equal access to justice for all Americans.

As Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. said, equal justice "is perhaps the most inspiring ideal of our society. It is one of the ends for which our entire legal system exists…it is fundamental that justice should be the same, in substance and availability, without regard to economic status." At LSC, we are determined to help the nation fulfill the promise of equal justice for all.

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 133 independent nonprofit legal aid programs in every state, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories.