Legal Services for Poor Face Growing Need and Less Funding

Legal Services for Poor Face Growing Need and Less Funding

by Marian Wang ProPublica

Providers of civil legal services to the poor are having to furlough their staff, triage their clients, and turn away more people in need as a result of the Congressional budget compromised reached last month. Legal services may include defending low-income individuals dealing with predatory lending, domestic violence, landlord-tenant disputes, or foreclosure. As we’ve noted, legal experts have particularly urged to Congress to adequately fund legal services [1] in order to alleviate the crisis of flawed foreclosures.

But far from any seeing any budget increases, the umbrella non-profit group Legal Services Corporation had its funding cut by $15.8 million [2]–about 4 percent of its most recent budget–as a result of last month’s budget compromise. It was spared a $75 million cut first proposed by House Republicans.

The modest reduction isn’t the only reason that the 136 legal aid programs across the country funded through LSC are in a tight spot. In addition to less funding from the federal government, they have limited support from cash-strapped states, dwindling revenue from trust accounts [3], and a growing population of people eligible and in need of their help.

“You do reach a point where you can no longer absorb” the cuts, Edwina Frances Martin, a spokeswoman for Legal Services NYC, told me. Martin said her organization gets about 14 percent of its budget from Legal Services Corporation and lost about $720,000 in the final federal budget. It’s planning cutbacks large and small—cutting the budget for food at trainings, leaving some empty positions unfilled, and implementing furloughs in some field offices.

Elsewhere in the country, Idaho Legal Aid Services is starting to shutter its offices several days every month, the Associated Press reported. The organization lost about 60 percent of its funding [4] in the final federal budget.

In Virginia, chapters of the Virginia Legal Aid Society are starting to lay off attorneys [5].

In Maine, Pine Tree Legal Assistance—the group whose volunteer attorney [6], Thomas Cox, deposed a GMAC employee last year and set off a nationwide furor [7] over flawed foreclosure practices at the nation’s biggest banks—estimates that the cuts will affect its ability to serve about 125 families this year [8].

In New Jersey, the group that coordinates civil legal services across the state said that programs are providing less full representation for clients and instead are opting to offer more limited help—such as legal advice—to more people. (Read the Legal Services of New Jersey’s report from last month [9].)

The reasons for this are manifold. Like other states, New Jersey has lost some federal funding through Legal Services Corporation, but that’s only its third biggest revenue stream. Its biggest dilemma [10] is a drop in revenue from lawyers’ trust accounts, which collect interest on payouts to clients and donate that interest to legal aid. That revenue has dropped from $40 million to $8 million annually, Legal Services of New Jersey said.

In New York, another stream of funding is also being lost. On top of its federal cut on general funding, Legal Services NYC is no longer going to be getting federal stimulus dollars specifically allocated by the state [11] for foreclosure prevention, as the New York Times reported on Friday. As we reported last week, the organization’s foreclosure prevention efforts helped two homeowners in the Bronx discover and contest clauses hidden in the fine print of their mortgage modification agreements that would limit their ability to sue or fight foreclosure [12].At least in New York, legal services providers do have friends in high places. The state’s chief judge, Jonathan Lippmann, has for months [13] crusaded for more state dollars [14] to go to civil legal services and has pledged to make it happen.

“As chief judge, I see this as one of the great challenges facing our justice system today,” Lippmann said [14] in comments last week. “No issue is more fundamental to our constitutional mandate of providing equal justice under the law than ensuring adequate legal representation.”

Related: Read our report on how the budget slashed housing counseling funds [15] as well.

Follow on Twitter: @mariancw [16]


6 Responses to “Legal Services for Poor Face Growing Need and Less Funding”
  1. Bobbi Swann says:

    Well, here in the (floundering) state of Florida we are spared…..because our elustrious Pam Bondi has come to our rescue on a settlement with the Watson Group for a $2mil settlement and half of those proceeds are going to the Legal Aid. Don’t know where the he** the other half is going and I’ve asked her that in a letter. Let’s see now, a $460 billion in monies made by the shyster banks and their attorneys from the Ponzi scheme and a whopping $1 mil to help Florida homeowners with legal aid……hummmm….sounds about right, eh?

  2. Pamela says:

    Our legal system was always set up for Pro Se involvement thats not to say lawyers are not good or at least some of them,but that is to say that more people will have to become more involved in thier own defenses and cases.Instead of looking at it as some onerous and thankless task look at it as a new adventure ;in the space of a year you will have learned more than you could imagine as possible.The worse that can happen is you will have to appeal some decisions you’re not happy with.Remember you can keep this tied up as long as the banks can .They just don’t want you to do that.Yes you might have to pay for legal advice from time to time,but fight ,fight,fight an keep your hea up cause you are fighting the GOOD FIGHT.

  3. Jack W. Dopp says:

    A few months ago I had analyzed all the Southern California graduates of Max Gardner’s “Workshop for Attornys” and found a local attorney “Greg” of a Local Aid group. In a meeting of individuals needing help, he stated that he had 100% success in keeping homeowners in their homes after they were lost in foreclosure–some for as long as 2 years after eviction was started. When I called two weeks ago, they said they are not taking any more eviction or bankruptcy cases. Now I know why!!!

    • l vent says:

      Jack, these lawyers have been telling the people to go it pro se for months. For a $150.00 consultation fee, they will tell you how to answer your fraudclosure complaint to keep the wolves at bay until you can file bk.

    • Hell NO - No More Bail-Outs or FALSE Modification Programs (Ahem or A-hamp) says:

      @ Jack

      What part of So Cal? Can you provide some means of contact? I might be able to point out some help.

  4. l vent says:

    Sure that is their plan. They want to render the people broke and defenseless so they can take us over with their NEW WORLD ORDER, ONE WORLD CURRENCY AND ONE WORLD FASCIST DICTATORSHIP. They are intentionally creating Weimar Germany all over again with well planned and executed, strategic, Nazi class warfare. First they intentionally collapsed the markets, then they implemented the second phase of their evil plan via the Federal Reserve bank and Wall Street.. They do not plan on stopping until it takes a wheelbarrow full of worthless money to buy a loaf of bread. There is no other explanation for what is happening here and the U.S GOVERNMENT must put a stop to this or there will be a Revolution in America by the people against this foreign owned and operated tyranny. The U.S. CONSTITUTION protects us from such a tyranny.

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