Congress, Unmoved by Dire Economic Times, Agrees to Drastic Cuts in Legal Services Funding for the Poor

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.”

The gap between the nation’s wealthiest and everyone else is the widest it has been since the 1920s, and as noted earlier this year by the Census Bureau the number of people living in poverty is at its highest in more than 50 years. The dire reality, however, apparently did not move Congress. Instead of seeking new revenue through tax increases on the nation’s super wealthy, lawmakers seem bent on cutting programs, like LSC, that are desperately needed by the poor.

An event hosted by ACS and the Center for American Progress, earlier this year, explored the difficulties the nation’s poor are facing, and the increasing need for legal services.