Despite high hopes, when Congress acted on the budget for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) it provided only a modest funding increase and left intact many of the restrictions on the use of the funds. Programs that receive LSC grants have severe limits on their ability to assist immigrants and prisoners, pursue class action litigation, or work for regulatory or legislative changes. Even privately raised funds are governed by the restrictions.
Legal Aid does not receive an LSC grant, however, we do support our colleagues that do. LSC is the largest single funding source for legal aid in the country and it is critical that the program receive adequate resources and that grantees have the flexibility to meet the needs of their clients across the continuum of services that lawyers can provide.
The recession has highlighted the critical role of legal assistance and the need for there to be a robust and flexible network. Increased poverty, overwhelming foreclosure rates and a dramatic need for assistance with regard to unemployment insurance claims has swamped programs leaving thousands of people without counsel when they need it the most. The consequences for individuals and communities has been devastating.
The Civil Access to Justice Act of 2009 (S. 718, H.R. 3764) has been introduced in Congress to reauthorize LSC. If passed, the bill will remove many of the most onerous restrictions and authorize a substantial increase in funding from $420 million to $750 million.
The Brennan Center for Justice is leading an effort to garner support for the legislation. For more information visit the Brenan Center Webpage. If you wish to sign a letter of support, contact Emily Savner at email@example.com before January 29, 2010.