Legal Services Corporation (LSC)

  • February 19, 2013
    Guest Post

    by U.S. District Court Judge Robert W. Pratt, Southern District of Iowa


    In late January, U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) announced he would retire when this session of Congress ends in December, 2014. I have known Tom Harkin since we worked together as young lawyers at the Polk County (Des Moines, Iowa) Legal Aid Society. The first paragraph of any article about Harkin must mention the Americans with Disabilities Act, the landmark civil rights legislation outlawing discrimination against those with disabilities passed in the congress of 1989-90. This is as it should be because that law has literally changed the face of America but there is so much more, however, that most people do not know about his work.

    While at Polk County legal aid as a young lawyer he lobbied the Iowa legislature to pass the Uniform Consumer Credit Code, lobbied to eliminate the sovereign immunity for tort liability for governments, worked against those who wanted to raise the interest rates for consumers and challenged in the Iowa Supreme Court a loitering ordinance that was used indiscriminately against the poor.

    Although Iowa is now a politically competitive state, it was not always so.  From the time of the Civil War, just as southern states were solidly Democratic, Iowa was solidly Republican.  It was once common wisdom that “Iowa would go Democratic when hell went Methodist.” Remarkably   Harkin, during his political career has defeated five incumbent members of Congress, and is the only Democrat in Iowa’s history to be re-elected to the U.S. Senate. Along the way he has helped Iowa’s state Democratic Party to be one of the most progressive and best organized in the country. Harkin’s political legacy in Iowa is secure because of that and also because so many of his former staff and campaign people are prominent in today’s progressive movement.         

  • November 18, 2011

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Earlier this week Congress agreed on a drastic cut of funding for the Legal Services Corporation, the nation’s largest provider of civil legal help for low-income people.

    As noted at Daily Kos, the LSC, which helps an ever-growing pool of people, “has fallen under the chopping block of Congress.”

    CLASP, a public advocacy group for the nation’s poor, in a press statement says the House and Senate conferees agreed earlier this week to a nearly 14 percent cut. “The agreement reduced funding for LSC in 2012 to $348 million from $404.19 million in 2011. The last time LSC was funded at $348 million was in 2007,” a statement from CLASP reads.

    The draconian cut comes, of course, as more people are now living in poverty, and much of the nation continues to struggle from aftershocks of the Great Recession. Earlier this year, Daily Kos’ Adam Bonin, an attorney in Philadelphia and former ACS Lawyer Chapter leader, wrote that the proposed cut to LSC funding “would prove to be especially damaging to low-income persons whose health and safety are at risk – the elderly, the victims of domestic violence, the disabled, children, veterans, and others – by denying them access to justice.”

    Following the agreement to cut funding, LSC Board Chair John G. Levi said, “The nation’s poverty population has never been this large, and, as a consequence, requests for civil legal assistance are increasing.” And unless Congress would agree to “restore and enhance” LSC funding, services to low-income persons will dwindle.

    “Many LSC-funded programs,” Levi said, “will have no choice but to lay off staff and reduce the legal assistance they provide low-income Americans.”

  • August 24, 2011

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Lawmakers in Congress continue to be far more interested in protecting generous tax breaks for the nation’s wealthy at the expense of a much larger segment of the public, such as those in need of legal services.

    As The New Times’ editorial page notes in “Addressing the Justice Gap,” since the Great Recession an increasing number of people are representing themselves in civil proceedings, such as home foreclosures and landlord-tenant disputes, and research “shows that litigants representing themselves often fare less well than those with lawyers.”

    The editorial notes, however, that instead of doing more to assist the nation’s less fortunate, the government has taken a different, and devastating approach by slashing funding for legal services over the decades, and efforts are underway in Congress to cut even more. As noted here, a House committee has proposed a 26 percent cut in funding to the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), the national agency that distributes money to states for their service programs, and cuts to LSC are already being felt across the nation, with local legal services groups suffering. For Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.), cutting LSC services is not enough, he wants the entire agency shuttered.

    But, The Times’ editorial states, the situation need not be so dire:

    There is plenty the government, the legal profession and others can do to improve this shameful state of affairs. With the economic downturn, only around two-thirds of law school graduates in 2010 got jobs for which a law degree is required, the lowest rate since 1996. That leaves the other third – close to 15,000 lawyers – who, with financial support from government and the legal profession, could be using their legal expertise to help some of those who need representation.

    ACS and the Center for American Progress hosted an event earlier this year examining the nation’s growing justice gap and ways to address it. Video of that event is available here.

  • August 8, 2011

    by Jeremy Leaming

    As an increasing number of economists suggests the nation’s wobbly economy may yet be heading into another recession, the effects of the Great Recession continue to do great damage to government funding of legal services.

    The cuts to such services are coming at a time when an increasing number of people need them, whether they are homeowners trying to cope with foreclosure, renters struggling to deal with evictions, or workers fighting employment discrimination.  

    On the federal level, the House Appropriations Committee is pushing for a 26 percent cut in funding to Legal Services Corporation (LSC), the nation’s largest provider of funding for civil legal services for low-income people. Cuts to LSC funding made by Congress in spring, along with cuts at the state level, have further hampered the ability of organizations to help low-income people access justice.   

    For example, Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC) has announced that it “would close three of its branch offices and significantly reduce staff and services around the State due to severe funding cuts," the Xpress Mountain of Asheville and Western North Carolina reports. The shuttering of offices will affect more than “100,000 households – including more than 30,000 children,” who are eligible for the services.

    Celeste Harris, chair of the LANC board of directors, told the Xpress Mountain:

    New Jersey has also seen major slashes to its legal aid services. “From 2008 to 2010, Legal Services of New Jersey has seen its budget cut by 35 percent, from $72 million to $47 million, and lost nearly half of its staff attorneys as a result. In the 2011 budget, funding was slashed by another third; the 2012 budget signed by the governor included the additional $10 million cut,” Shore News Today reports.

    The article notes that some lawmakers in the New Jersey Assembly are urging the governor to reconsider the $10 million cut.

    State Sen. Jeff Van Drew said, “I’ve always been fiscally conservative, but without this funding there will be deeper cuts to an overburdened system. People cannot have their day in court on issues that affect their everyday lives without access to representation.”   

    During a recent event hosted by ACS and the Center for American Progress on the growing need for legal services, ACS Executive Director Caroline Fredrickson noted that even at the current legal aid services funding rates, more than 80 percent of low-income Americans have no access to legal assistance.

    “Sadly this crisis has been made only worse by the unemployment rate in this country and foreclosure problem,” Fredrickson said. “And at $284 per hour, which is the national average billing rate for attorneys, it is no surprise that many are priced out of access to justice.”

    In a recent ACS Book Talk feature, Corey Shdaimah, a law professor at the University of Maryland, asks, “If we can shore up corporations and financial institutions, why can’t we shore up people, communities, and their faith in our legal system? In the U.S., access to justice without lawyers is largely a hollow promise.”

  • July 14, 2011

    As recently noted here, the House Appropriations Committee is pushing a plan to seriously slash the funding of the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), which is the nation’s largest provider of civil legal services low-income people. The House’s proposed 26 percent cut would drop the agency’s funding to its lowest level since 1999 during an ongoing economic slump that has only created a greater need for the services.

    Daily Kos’ Adam Bonin highlights that the proposed slashing plan would compound an already dire siutation, noting that the wobbly finacial markets are already harming another source of legal services funding. He says the “other key funding sources for legal services for the poor,” called “IOLTA – interest on lawyers’ trust accounts in which client funds (such as settlements) are held – and with interest rates dropping, IOLTA funding has fallen as well.”

    Bonin, an attorney in Philadelphia and  former ACS Lawyer Chapter leader, also notes LSC’s statement on the proposal. LSC President James J. Sandman said, “The proposed cut would prove to be especially damaging to low-income persons whose health and safety are at risk – the elderly, the victims of domestic violence, the disabled, children, veterans, and others – by denying them access to justice.”

    During a recent event hosted by ACS and the Center for American Progress examining, in part the growing need for legal services, ACS Executive Director Caroline Fredrickson noted that even at the current legal aid services funding rates, more than 80 percent of low-income Americans have no access to legal assistance.

    “Sadly this crisis has been made only worse by the unemployment rate in this country and foreclosure problem,” Fredrickson said. “And at $284 per hour, which is the national average billing rate for attorneys, it is no surprise that many are priced out of access to justice.”

    Bonin urges his readers to reach out to lawmakers in Congress to counter the proposed cut. “Whatever else needs cutting, Legal Services Corporation funding should not be cut,” he says.