Legal Aid of the District of Columbia today issued the following statement after the Chairman of the DC Council released his proposed budget, which would fully restore funding for civil legal services and emergency rental services for low-income residents.
These critical programs enable Legal Aid and other legal services providers to continue to support residents experiencing poverty, including by providing legal services to prevent eviction.
“We are tremendously grateful for Chairman Mendelson’s proposed restoration of Access to Justice and Emergency Rental Assistance Program dollars in the FY 2024 budget to this year’s funding levels,” said Vikram Swaruup, Executive Director of Legal Aid of the District of Columbia. “These investments are critical to meeting the surging need in housing cases. In the first four months of this year, requests for Legal Aid’s assistance in eviction matters have doubled compared to the same period a year ago, and the additional funding is critical to ensuring that we can serve as many District residents as possible. As the Council considers the much-improved budget proposal, we encourage members to find additional ways to invest in our client community, from more rental assistance dollars to full funding of legislation that aims to boost nutritional assistance in the face of dramatically increased food costs.”
As part of the budget released in March, the Mayor had proposed a 60% cut to the Access to Justice program, which helps ensure District residents facing significant legal challenges can get legal services. Those cuts would have reduced funding for the program from approximately $31 million in 2023 to $13 million in 2024. Most of Legal Aid’s budget to pay attorneys who provide legal services for residents comes from these funds.
In 2023, the funds from the program help pay for 46 lawyers and professionals – about half of the employees at the organization – who will assist nearly 5,000 clients facing foreclosure, eviction, and debt collection cases or needing help ensuring safety from domestic violence or accessing government benefits, like health care or nutritional assistance.
The Mayor’s proposed budget also would have reduced funding for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) from $43 million to $8 million, reducing a crucial safety net for tenants experiencing poverty. This year, the $43 million allocated to ERAP lasted less than six months.
Legal Aid forcefully advocated against these cuts, testifying at multiple Council hearings regarding the proposed cuts to the Access to Justice program and ERAP to reinforce the dire impact the cuts would have on legal service providers and District residents they serve.
The Council will take the first of two votes on the budget on Tuesday.