Legal aid ensures equal justice for all; Congress must increase funding for the Legal Services Corporation

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When Americans with limited means need help with life’s big problems, the Legal Services Corporation is there. It helps disaster victims get the government assistance to which they are entitled. When domestic violence survivors need protection, LSC lawyers help obtain court orders. And LSC helps tenants who face illegal evictions.

The Legal Services Corporation is a national nonprofit, supported partly by the federal government, that funds more than 800 legal aid offices across the country. The work of lawyers in these offices change lives. Consider the case of one woman in Fairfax County, Va., near Washington, D.C.

{mosads}She was in a physically and emotionally abusive relationship for three years before her abuser was convicted of assaulting her. With no money for a lawyer, she turned to Legal Services of Northern Virginia, which helped her win custody of her child and get child support. Today, this woman works as a nursing assistant and is studying to become a nurse.

Last year, LSC lawyers helped 1.8 million low-income Americans with civil legal problems like this Virginia mother.

But now, LSC needs help.

This year, the White House proposed denying all federal funding for LSC. That action would have closed or decimated many legal aid offices. For example, Legal Services of Northern Virginia gets one-quarter of its funding from LSC. Its staff of 60, including 38 lawyers, helped 15,000 clients last year.

Fortunately, thanks to bipartisan support on the Hill, Congress recently increased LSC funding from $385 million in FY17 to $410 million in FY18. The new funding will allow LSC to help at least an additional 100,000 people nationwide.

That is no small thing. But it is still not enough to rebalance the scales of justice. The American Bar Association is asking Congress to restore funding for the Legal Services Corporation to 2010 levels – $482 million, after adjusting for inflation.

Even with the increased funding, 1 million low-income Americans will be turned away from legal aid offices across the country that don’t have the budget for all the lawyers and paralegals needed to handle their cases.

This month, lawyers from nearly every state in America – conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats – came to Capitol Hill to make the case for legal aid funding. The event, organized by the American Bar Association, aimed to ensure that no one is shut out of the American justice system because he or she cannot afford a lawyer. While the message was well-received by representatives on both sides of the aisle, we remain concerned that legal aid funding is inadequate to meet the needs of all Americans.

Equal justice is a basic principle of our national Constitution. It should be protected by our federal government. Proper funding for LSC is a vital necessity – to protect the rights of all Americans.

Hilarie Bass is president of the American Bar Association and co-president of the law firm Greenberg Traurig.

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