LSC Requests Funding to Address Surge in Demand for Legal Aid Amid COVID-19
WASHINGTON – The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) is requesting supplemental funding of $350-500 million be included in the COVID-19 relief package under consideration to address the short- and long-term consequences of the pandemic on low-income Americans. This funding would help LSC’s 132 grantees around the country assist individuals facing urgent legal issues brought on by the pandemic.
“COVID-19 continues to increase enormously the life-altering civil legal needs faced by low-income Americans and legal aid can be a game-changer in addressing those needs,” said LSC President Ronald S. Flagg. “The dramatic spike in legal needs caused by COVID-19 coupled with precipitous declines in state and local funding underscore the continuing need for emergency federal funding for legal aid.”
The new leadership of the Congressional Access to Legal Aid Caucus expressed support for LSC’s request at a virtual event last Thursday. The co-chairs of the caucus, Reps. Mary Gay Scanlon (PA-5) and Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-1), were joined by caucus vice chair Tom Emmer (MN-6) at LSC’s forum on COVID-19’s impact on the courts and access to justice for low-income Americans.
“I will, and I know my colleagues will, do whatever we can to support LSC's request for relief funding,” said Rep. Emmer. “As you have fought for those most affected by this pandemic, your government should assist your efforts. Legal aid funding should be an important piece of our recovery plan. As millions of Americans face housing insecurity due to job loss and pandemic- related financial instability, you have become more essential than ever.”
Rep. Fitzpatrick said he was grateful for the assistance of legal aid organizations, recognizing “just how significant the support they provided throughout the pandemic truly has been.” He added: “When taking into consideration the funding cuts and practical day-to-day challenges of working remotely that legal aid organizations everywhere are facing, it's imperative that LSC receive additional funding to allow for their continuation of aid to our low-income constituents.”
Rep. Scanlon spoke about the role of the caucus in enhancing support in general for LSC funding. “We want to try to grow the legal aid caucus so that we have a broader reach,” she explained. “Many members of Congress say, ‘Oh yes, we always support legal services,’ but they don't understand how—relative to the ’70s—the funding for legal services has not kept pace. I want to work on educating them about that.”
The caucus leadership previously had sent a letter of support for LSC’s funding request to the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies in January. LSC-funded organizations “are on the frontlines in assisting people during the pandemic,” the letter stated. It went on to say that “with a significant investment, LSC grantees can continue their stellar work serving clients remotely and enhance their efforts to improve their organizational infrastructure to better serve clients.”
Last March, Congress appropriated $50 million to LSC in the CARES Act to respond to civil legal needs arising out of the pandemic. The overwhelming majority of LSC grantees (78%) reported that this funding was insufficient to meet the spike in demand. Although the House-passed HEROES Act in September would have provided $100 million for LSC, no funding was included in the omnibus relief legislation enacted in December.
The need for legal aid remains high as the pandemic continues to disrupt the lives and financial security of people across the country. LSC’s July survey of LSC-funded legal services organizations found that its grantees were already struggling with growing demand for their services. Ninety-four percent of the organizations surveyed said that they were seeing clients who were newly eligible for LSC-funded legal aid due to the pandemic.
Housing issues are particularly pressing. LSC estimated that more than five million U.S. households were eligible for LSC-funded legal assistance and at risk of eviction. Demand is also high in the areas of unemployment, domestic violence and health care.