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More resources for the Legal Services Corporation are needed as the pandemic continues

The coronavirus pandemic is rapidly changing the United States. In the past three weeks, more than 20 million people have filed for unemployment benefits – and millions more have lost their jobs. Despite the fact that stores are closed, businesses strained, and travel is at a near standstill, bills still need to be paid. What would seem like a dream to some, working from home, is a horrible trap for others, stuck in a house with an abusive partner. Under stay-at-home orders, life is more complex and for some, bad situations are a whole lot worse.

Tragically, these issues keep compounding, making them more difficult to solve. This is happening when people have the least ability to deal with them. As we make it easier for people to access programs like Unemployment Insurance, we are also changing the rules which can create confusion. That is why, as Congress responds to the coronavirus crisis, I have advocated for more funding and resources for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) and local legal aid organizations throughout the country. Many Americans are in precarious situations and need support, including sound legal advice and representation during this extraordinarily challenging time.

LSC has been helping families navigate the legal system for decades. It has helped military families and veterans, those affected by opioids and addiction, victims of natural disasters, domestic violence survivors, families with children, homeowners and renters, the disabled, the elderly, and many others across the country. Through legal aid, individuals are empowered and given the tools they need to protect and exercise their rights. With so many issues, from eviction and foreclosure, to workplace health violations, to being confined at home with an abusive partner, never has LSC been more important and more needed.

Legal aid organizations across the country are bracing for a tidal wave of requests for assistance. Throughout the United States, we have seen a surge in domestic violence cases. The coronavirus has created a situation ripe for elder abuse and consumer fraud. Many of us are at our most vulnerable and all of us need to do more to ensure that in these extraordinary times, our family, friends and neighbors are safe, healthy, and treated justly. Even as we fight the coronavirus, we are still Americans with inalienable rights and we are all equal in the eyes of the law.

At the 40th anniversary celebration of the establishment of LSC, the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia remarked, “Equal treatment is the element of justice most fundamental … denial of access to professional legal assistance is denial of equal justice.” This sentiment has been echoed by major business leaders, private law firms, bipartisan state attorneys general, and Chief Justices of state courts who have advocated vigorously for LSC.

Stay-at-home orders will continue for the next several weeks in many parts of the country. Even when and where restrictions are lifted, things will not be the same as they were before. We should invest now in Legal Services Corporation so the rights of our families, friends and neighbors are fully protected during these uncertain times.

Steve Cohen represents Tennessee’s 9th District.

Tags COVID-19 Legal aid Legal Services Corporation Steve Cohen

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