Legal Aid Funding at Risk of Federal Budget Cuts, 040517 CABJ, CBJ - April 2017 #05

AuthorJohn Roemer Special to the Bar Journal.

Legal aid funding at risk of federal budget cuts

No. 2017 #05

California Bar Journal

April 5, 2017

Note: The State Bar distributes approximately $30 million annually to legal aid organizations throughout California. The bar also encourages direct contributions to legal aid funding through the Justice Gap Fund.

John Roemer Special to the Bar Journal.

The November election sent Shockwaves through the legal aid nonprofit community. Suddenly, advocates worried about the $77 million in federal funds that flow to California groups from the Legal Services Corporation, the Department of Education's advocacy grant program and others.

This money goes to agencies that provide services to low-income residents, promote equal access to justice, curb violence against women, and boost senior citizen protections, advance disability rights and aid similar causes.

The prospective damage is huge. The 11 California programs that get funding from the Legal Services Corporation serve over 200,000 people annually but are forced to turn away many eligible clients due to the lack of resources. Based on the state's current poverty population, there are over 7,500 eligible clients per legal aid lawyer.

Yet legal aid attorneys tend to be resilient, optimistic and relentlessly upbeat. When the November election results became clear, they did a double take, and then refocused.

“We took a day to grieve,” said Salena G. Copeland, the executive director of the Legal Aid Association of California, of herself and colleagues at nearly 90 association members. “Then we went to work.”

Their hastily launched plan included encouraging pushback by the American Bar Association, the National Legal Aid & Defender Association and others against likely cuts. Plus, agencies are making moves in Sacramento to shore up the Legislature’s contribution to imperiled legal services budgets.

The State Bar of California nurtures partnerships that include private bar associations, policymakers, business and civic leaders, other funders and the financial institutions that hold Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts (IOLTA) money, a significant non-federal contribution to legal aid budgets.

But worries persist. Minutes before she spoke to a reporter, Silvia R. Argueta, the executive director of Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, had been on yet another conference call with colleagues discussing possible funding cuts. Her group gets 40 percent of its funding from the Legal...

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