A House-Senate vote has slashed funding for US legal aid provider the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) by more than $50m. In the main, the cuts will be imposed across the budget that the organisation uses for basic field grants, which are allocated in various proportions to 136 independent and non-profit legal aid programmes throughout the country.
At present, the corporation’s annual grant budget stands at almost $373m, but in the wake of the cuts, that will be reduced to just under $322.5m beyond fiscal year 2012.
Established by Congress in 1974 with a mission to ensure equal access to justice and high-quality legal assistance for low-income Americans, the LSC is the largest provider of legal aid in the US. Among the social groups that receive LSC funding via the network of non-profit outlets are the elderly, the disabled, military veterans and victims of domestic violence.
The reduction continues a trend that has chipped away at the Corporation’s coffers during the economic downturn. Two years ago, the LSC’s total funding stood at $420m. This was lowered to $404m, and lowered again to its current level of $398m, of which the $373m grant budget is the most significant part.
In an official announcement, the LSC acknowledged that the cuts could have been worse – noting that the House of Representatives had proposed a total budget of $300m. But LSC chairman John G Levi warned: ‘Federal funding has long been the cornerstone for legal aid, and essential to fulfilling our nation’s promise of equal justice for all. Many LSC-funded programs will have no choice but to lay off staff and reduce the legal assistance they provide.’
Levi stressed that the LSC is ‘striving to do its part’ by expanding partnerships and collaborations that will promote access to justice. ‘To enhance support for legal services,’ he said, ‘the board established a Pro Bono Task Force to identify innovative practices that can help increase pro bono services to low-income Americans and involve more law firms, law schools and others in the work of LSC programmes.
‘We all understand the competing priorities within our government,’ he added. ‘However, this is not the time to put at risk the orderly administration of our civil justice system.’
For NewLegal Review coverage of legal aid cuts in the UK, click here, here and here
Federal funding crunch hits Legal Services Corporation, sparking fears over access to justice for disadvantaged Americans