Perspectives provided by UpCounsel attorneys Patrice Perkins, who previously worked for a legal aid organization, and Josh Garber, who began his career on the American Civil Liberties Union’s legal team.
Lawyers are expensive. That’s why so many low-income people have to turn to a legal aid agency for counsel. Across the country, millions of people rely on the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) for an expansive range of issues – from settling domestic abuse cases to filing for veteran benefits.
In President Trump’s budget proposal, the LSC is set to receive no funding for 2018.
Yet, in President Donald Trump’s recent budget proposal, the LSC is set to receive no funding for 2018.
In President Trump’s budget “blueprint,” by slashing funding for an expansive list of programs along with the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Humanities, he allocates $54 billion to military services and $2.8 billion to the Department of Homeland Security.
In a letter prefacing the budget, Trump wrote, “This Budget Blueprint follows through on my promise to focus on keeping Americans safe, keeping terrorists out of our country, and putting violent offenders behind bars.”
Before the Office of Economic Development was established in 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, legal aid programs were buoyed by individual and charity donations. The LSC came along later in 1974 as President Richard Nixon’s attempt to barrier legal aid services from political influence.
Legal aid programs rely on the LSC for up to 80% of their funding.
Today, the LSC is sustained with $375 million a year, and funds 134 legal aid organizations across the country. The majority of states count on the LSC for 30 to 50 percent of their legal aid budget, and in states with vast low-income populations like Alabama, the legal aid programs rely on the LSC for 80 percent of their funding.
“All Americans benefit when the least fortunate among us are given access to legal aid,” said Josh Garber, an UpCounsel employment attorney, who began his legal career as an attorney for the ACLU and counts a nonprofit in Switzerland among his many clients.
“Because the LSC is the largest single funder of civil legal aid in the country, eliminating its funding would deny millions of the most vulnerable Americans of the ability to receive legal help,” he added.
Unlike public defenders, the LSC isn’t protected by the Sixth Amendment. Yet, the service provides equally valuable high-quality help and assistance to families and individuals throughout the country.
President Nixon created the LSC in 1974 to barrier legal aid services from political influence.
“I can only imagine the impact that this cut would have – legal services shouldn’t just be accessible to those who are lucky enough to afford it,” said UpCounsel Business Transaction and IP Attorney Patrice Perkins, who formerly worked for a legal aid organization. “We need funding to remain intact so that there are real options for people in need.”
According to Greensboro’s News & Record, 4 million North Carolinians qualify for legal aid’s services, but Legal Aid of North Carolina, won’t receive 48 percent of its funding if President Trump’s budget goes through.
That’s $11 million of its $22 million annual budget. The California Rural Legal Assistance receives $7 million, or 59 percent, of its funding from the LSC, and rural communities especially depend on LSC-funded agencies, as in urban areas there are other nonprofit pro bono legal programs that can fill in the gaps where the LSC can’t.
“Access to justice cannot only be available to those who can afford it, and President Trump’s budget does a huge disservice to the country and its founding principles, as well as to the legal profession itself,” Josh added.
“The LSC is the largest single funder of civil legal aid in the country.” – Josh Garber
The LSC also saves states big bucks in social services. According to the LSC’s 2015 Budget Request, the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation saved the state approximately $4.5 million in housing costs in 2013. In New York, the Civil Legal Services in New York, or New York Task Force, provided $2 million in healthcare savings for the city’s homeless population and $1.2 million in shelter costs. In Pennsylvania, for every LSC dollar spent, the state’s residents save $11. Similar savings are true for Virginia, Florida and Tennessee.
According to the most recent U.S. Census data, 63.6 million people were eligible for LSC services in 2013, the highest population in the corporation’s history. Of those people, half of them are employed, and 5.5 million worked full-time, yet earned 125 percent less than the federal poverty line.
Without the LSC, legal aid agencies will have to significantly reduce their staff.
Despite the jarring statistics, President Trump is not the first president to propose shutting down the LSC. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan recommended to consolidate the corporation with other social services and let states allocate their own funds. However, he was overruled by both Democratic and Republican legislators. In 1995, then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich called to deplete the LSC’s funding over the next three years, but his request failed.
Dissolving the LSC’s funding will mean that millions of Americans will be resourceless when it comes to resolving sensitive and serious issues such as child support and custody, evictions, foreclosures, family disputes, domestic violence, military and public services benefits and consumer fraud.
Without financial support from the LSC, legal aid agencies will have to significantly reduce their staff, therefore substantially increasing the client-to-attorney ratio. Clients will receive less attention, and it’s probable that many will be forced to represent themselves.
“We need legal aid funding to remain intact so that there are real options for people in need.” – Patrice Perkins
“Having previously worked for a legal aid organization, I understand the need, first-hand, for adequate funding to ensure that quality legal services remain accessible to everyone,” Patrice said. “We operated with a lean staff and worked incredibly hard to keep pace with the high demand for services.”
In March, 150 lawyers signed a letter to John Michael Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, demanding he keep funding in tact.
“Eliminating the Legal Services Corporation will not only imperil the ability of civil legal aid organizations to serve Americans in need, it will also vastly diminish the private bar’s capacity to help these individuals,” they wrote. “The pro bono activity facilitated by LSC funding is exactly the kind of public-private partnership the government should encourage, not eliminate.”
President Trump’s budget proposal currently awaits congressional approval.
About Josh Garber
Josh, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, represents businesses in employment matters, business transactions and formations, contract drafting and management, and IP and corporate governance matters. Though he is dedicated to helping his clients avoid litigation, Josh has extensive trial experience and has obtained favorable outcomes in state and federal courts, mediations, arbitrations and DLSE hearings. Josh’s clients include HotelTonight and Tesla. Get a free proposal from Josh.
About Patrice Perkins
Patrice is a transactional business and IP attorney with seven years of experience in corporate transactions, trademark and copyright matters on behalf of clients in new media, e-commerce, technology, entertainment and other creative industries. Get a free proposal from Patrice.