Due to the ever-dwindling coffers of legal aid clinics over the past decade, and the “everything must go” approach to the national budget this year, most observers expected President Obama’s budget plan to include extensive cuts to the Legal Services Corporation, which has funded low-income people in need of lawyers since the 1960s. Instead, the president suggested a $30 million increase to the LSC’s budget, an apparent nod to the view that legal aid for the poor is even more essential considering the tough economic climate.
Earlier this week, Mother Jones Magazine published a story about the decades-long opposition to legal aid clinics, which has largely succeeded in handicapping legal aid by making it more and more difficult to raise funds. The current economic recession has been just as hostile. The San Francisco Recorder reported last year that the economy has harmed legal aid clinics, as funding for the state-based Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts, which collects interest from funds that lawyers hold temporarily for their clients to be distributed to people in need of legal aid, dropped 75 percent from 2007 to 2009 alone.
If you live in California, visit our interactive map of Bay Area legal aid clinics.
Most observers expect congress to impose additional cuts to the LSC. House Republicans, for example, have suggested cutting the $420 million budget by $75 million. But the LSC, which asked for a nearly $100 million increase, said this would cause significant damage to poor people in need of legal services. “All of us in this country must make sure that our justice system works for the millions of Americans who are among the most vulnerable in our society and that we fulfill our national promise of equal access to justice,” said LSC board chairman John Levi in a written statement. LSC president James Sandman added “More people need legal services than ever because of the recession, high unemployment, and the slow economic recovery.”
President Obama’s proposed $30 million increase for the LSC is an encouraging sign that the administration intends to protect the legal needs of constituents of all incomes. But the budget battle is far from complete, and as always, the legal aid clinics remain vulnerable to future cuts. We’ll keep you posted with any updates.