Making Justice Real

The Official Blog of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia

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The following story from CNN about federal funding for legal services features Legal Aid and one of our clients. While Legal Aid does not receive a federal legal services grant — in the District, those dollars go to the Neighborhood Legal Services Program — we strongly support increased federal funding and the elimination of restrictions on the use of the federal grants to expand services to clients in need of help.

As part of the federal budget, the House of Representatives increased the federal commitment to legal services by $50 million. If passed by the Senate, the Legal Services Corporation will be appropriated $440 million. Of this appropriation. $414 million will be distributed to local programs based on their poverty populations. When finally distributed, the grants will provide about $10 for each person living in poverty in the jurisdiction. Not nearly enough to meet the need.

Federal funding carries with it significant restrictions. Programs that receive these dollars are limited in the types of cases they may take and the clients they may serve.  A recent report by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU documented the injustice and inefficiencies of these restrictions.

Federal support for legal services is about one-third of the money spent to provide lawyers for the poor nationwide. State and local appropriations and Interest on Lawyers Trust Account Programs (IOLTA) make up most of the rest.

In the District of Columbia, however, the largest funders of legal services are private law firms and lawyers. About two third of Legal Aid’s funding comes from generous gifts from members of the private bar. (See our generous supporters.) Other legal services groups rely on law firm support as well. While more funds are needed to meet the gap between need and services, the support of the bar is critical and we are enormously grateful for it.

This generosity has created one of the most comprehensive legal services communities and among the strongest partnerships between private and public interest lawyers in the nation. As the downturn in the economy continues to grow the need, this partnership is more important than ever.

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