Bar News - May 9, 2008
Versions of the following letter were sent to the chairs and ranking members of the relevant appropriations subcommittees of the US House and Senate.
As presidents of the 50 state and two territorial bar associations nationwide, the National Conference of Bar Presidents, and the National Association of Bar Executives, we respectfully request that your subcommittee take an important step forward in closing the current justice gap in America by providing the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) with at least $400 million in the Fiscal Year 2009 Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies bill.
Thanks to your efforts and strong bipartisan support, the House-passed CJS bill provided LSC with $377 million for FY 2008, a much-needed $28.4 million increase over FY 2007 level of $348.6 million. However, the end-of-the year FY 2008 consolidated appropriations act reduced LSCís funding back to $350.5 million, a mere $1.9 million increase. LSC would have needed a $7.3 million increase (to $355.9 million) just to keep up with inflation.
A significant funding increase is vital for this critical program as a step toward restoring LSCís funding to pre-1996 levels, adjusted for inflation. In FY 1995, LSC was funded at $415 million, which would be $576 million in todayís dollars.
Today, 50 million Americans qualify for federally funded legal assistance. However, the 2005 study by LSC, "Documenting the Justice Gap in America," reported that one in every two individuals who qualify for and actually seek assistance from LSC-funded programs is denied help because of lack of resources. Similar state studies in recent years consistently report that despite the combined efforts of LSC-funded programs, state, local and private funding and pro bono efforts, the majority of low-income Americans are unable to obtain legal assistance that is often critical to their safety and independence.
Every day, new situations arise that continue to stretch the ability of our country to ensure that low income persons can fairly resolve their legal problems through the justice system. Today, consumer fraud matters and the mortgage foreclosure crisis are at the forefront. In addition to affecting low-income homeowners, the foreclosures are also forcing low-income renters from their homes.
LSC currently funds 137 local programs serving every county, state and congressional district in the United States and its territories. These local programs provide direct services to approximately one million constituents who struggle to get by on incomes below or near the poverty line. The failure to resolve their basic legal issues causes even greater hardship for them, and often leads to their reliance on other government programs.
For the above reasons, we request that you support increasing LSC funding to at least $400 million to help meet this urgent need. Thank you for your consideration of this request.
Eleanor Dahar, President
NH Bar Association
The letter also was signed by the presidents of all 50 state bar associations, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, and, from the ABA, the National Conference of Bar Presidents, and the National Association of Bar Executives. In NH, the primary recipient of LSC funding is the Legal Advice & Referral Center (LARC). For more about LARC, visit www.larcnh.org.