Questions and Answers about the January 2019 Changes to the Governing Bodies Rule
In January 2019, the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) changed two requirements related to client-eligible program board members. LSC’s regulations still require client-eligible board members to have incomes at or below 125% of the poverty level for appointment to an initial term on a recipient board. The first change is that recipients can now decide whether their client-eligible board members must meet this financial requirement to serve additional connected terms. The second change is that LSC’s regulations now allow recipients to decide whether outside organizations appoint their client-eligible board members.
LSC listened to your questions about these changes—here are the answers.
I want to become a client-eligible board member. Am I qualified?
- You are qualified to apply if your income is 125% of the poverty level or less.
I used to be a legal services program client. Now my income is more than 125% of the poverty level. Can I apply to be a client-eligible board member?
- No. Your income must be 125% of the poverty level or less to apply to serve on the board. Legal services programs funded by LSC cannot make exceptions to this requirement.
I am a client-eligible board member. My financial circumstances have improved, and my income is more than 125% of the poverty level. Can I stay on the board?
- If you are in the middle of your term, yes, you can finish the term.
- You might be able to stay on the board for additional terms. Once a client-eligible board member has served one term, LSC does not require the person’s income to be at or below 125% of the poverty level for them to serve a second term (or more). Program boards have a choice. They can set income requirements for additional terms or not.
- Talk to your fellow board members about what your board decided or should decide.
Why does LSC allow client-eligible board members with incomes higher than 125% of the poverty level to remain on program boards for a second term (or more)?
- LSC heard from the client community that client-eligible board members felt punished when forced to leave program boards after improving their financial situations. No one forgets the experience of being in poverty—for any length of time—if financial circumstances improve.
- Client-eligible board members’ financial improvements are often modest, so that they remain low-income and cannot afford lawyers. Often, they stay in the same community and face the same challenges.
- Receiving legal services may reduce poverty. Client-eligible board members who improve their financial circumstance may be good examples of this for the client community.
- To improve client-community representation, LSC wants each program to have flexibility to retain high-quality members—regardless of income.
Is LSC imposing term limits for current client-eligible board members whose income is more than 125% of the poverty level?
- No. Each program board must decide if it will implement term limits.
My income is 125% of the poverty level or less and I want to join a program board. I heard that an “outside” community organization, other than my legal services program, must appoint me to the legal service program board. Is this true?
- LSC does not require outside organizations to appoint client-eligible board members to program boards. Program boards must decide if their client eligible board members will be appointed by outside organizations, by the legal services program, or by a combination of both.
- Ask your legal aid organization staff if you must be appointed by an outside organization.
Why does LSC allow legal services programs to appoint client-eligible board members?
- LSC heard from the client community that it could be hard to get outside organizations to appoint client-eligible community members to program boards, particularly in rural areas.
- Legal services program staff reported meeting many clients and client-eligible community members who would make outstanding client-eligible board members. But outside organizations would not appoint these people because they did not know them or were too busy.
- LSC wants each program to have the flexibility to recruit and appoint quality client-eligible community members who better represent its unique client community.
My legal service program’s relationships with the outside organizations that appoint its client-eligible board members are important. The organizations regularly appoint good members to our board. Do we have to change our procedure?
- No. If your program currently uses an outside organization to recruit and appoint client-eligible board members and the relationship works well, your program can choose not to change your procedure.
- LSC learned that the outside organization appointment model works well for some programs but not others. Programs now have a choice. They can recruit client board members directly, allow outside organizations to continue making appointments, or do both—have some organizational appointments but keep the ability to recruit client board members directly.
I fear that my program board may have fewer diverse client-eligible board members because of these changes. The changes may reduce incentive to find new client-eligible members. Over time, fewer and fewer low-income people will serve. How will LSC make sure client-eligible board members reflect the client community?
- LSC still requires programs to ask community groups to recommend (instead of appointing) client-eligible community members reflective of the variety of interests within the client community.
- Program boards are responsible for ensuring that their members represent the low-income communities they serve. If the client-eligible board members on a program board are not representative of the client community, the program violates LSC’s performance criteria and risks its funding.
- LSC believes the changes will make it easier for programs to recruit, appoint, and retain client-eligible board members. But LSC will continue to listen to you. If, over time, program boards become less diverse and fewer low-income people serve on them, LSC can change the procedures through a rulemaking process in which all client eligible board members, board members, programs, and other stakeholders will be invited to participate.
If you still have questions about these requirements, please email Stefanie Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org.