Over the past 24 hours, a number of news outlets, including the Washington Post , have reported on the latest Census figures showing that a record number of Americans -- nearly one in six -- live in poverty. And poverty by this measure truly means poverty: An individual making $11,000 or a household of four with a total income of $22,500 is not considered poor. The release of these official Census data simply offers statistical confirmation for what Legal Aid and others in the legal services community have observed since the start of the Great Recession: that the already daunting plight of the poor has become even more desperate.
Legal Aid has long witnessed the deteriorating reality of the District's poorest residents. For persons living in poverty, this most recent economic crisis has depleted both government services and private giving at the precise moment when the sharp downturn in the economy has made these kinds of assistance most critical. As such, the need for civil legal services is greater now than ever before. At a recent intake in Legal Aid’s Southeast office, applicants flowed out of a packed waiting room into the lobby outside. Legal clinics to assist veterans have been steadily swamped; additional sessions are snapped up as soon as they are made available. And many agencies have lost count of desperate applicants struggling to obtain or appeal their denial of public benefits, housing, and basic government services, often fighting an uphill battle in proceedings that should never have been brought in the first place.
Access to civil legal services can make all the difference in the world. For instance, Legal Aid recently managed to assist a client connect her newborn son -- who had been born with severe development disabilities -- to an assistance program for which he was eligible. Early intervention in this instance was critical: timely treatment will likely enable him to grow up relatively healthy, and almost certainly more healthy than he would have been in the absence of the treatment. Beyond securing access to public benefits and other assistance programs, Legal Aid handles civil matters that go to the very heart of health, safety and security for District residents and their families, from saving homes and to assisting victims of domestic violence.
Especially in these challenging economic times, we are more committed than ever to ensuring equal access to justice.