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Letters to the 107th Congress

July 15, 2002

The Honorable Ernest F. Hollings, Chairman
Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice,
State, the Judiciary and Related Agencies
Committee on Appropriations
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Judd Gregg,
Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice,
State, the Judiciary and Related Agencies
Committee on Appropriations
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Subject: FY2003 Funding for the Legal Services Corporation

Dear Chairman Hollings and Senator Gregg:

The American Bar Association, representing more than 408,000 lawyers nationwide, is very grateful for your past support for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC.) At this time, the ABA respectfully requests that your Subcommittee increase funding for the LSC to $375 million.

We understand that your Subcommittee faces many difficult choices in light of the emerging budget deficits and the need to fund many programs involved in the war on terrorism. However, assuring access to our justice system for low-income individuals to resolve their legal problems peacefully is essential to preserving the rule of law.

Due to past budget cuts and flat funding in recent years, local LSC-funded legal aid programs, in your states and through the country, are forced to turn away individuals and families who need assistance with basic legal problems. Various credible studies - state and national - continue to show that despite the combined efforts of legal aid programs and private bar pro bono attorneys, as many as 80% of those in poverty need legal help but cannot obtain it. These people are substantially the "working poor" who encounter legal problems relating to family relationships, domestic violence, health, employment, housing and other basic life issues. Such hardships have only increased in scope and frequency since the terrorist attacks and as a result of the faltering economy. The local programs funded through the Corporation provide the only hope that these people can resolve such serious problems and continue to lead productive lives.

At the same time, almost every state has already experienced or expects significant decreases in supplemental funding provided through state legislatures and/or Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts (IOLTA). Compounding this problem, LSC's funding is distributed to the states and territories based on the number of individuals living in poverty, according to the latest available census figures. The 2000 Census reported a 5.59% increase in the nation's poverty population. States whose poverty populations have declined will certainly be hit with a decrease in federal funding; but states whose poverty populations have increased may also see a relative decline in funding if LSC's budget remains stagnant.

The LSC has historically been grossly under-funded. In 1996, Congress reduced LSC's funding by 30% from $400 million to $278 million and required many reforms in the way the LSC operated and restricted the activities of its local program grantees. The LSC has fully implemented all the required reforms, insuring that local grantees focus on meeting the basic, everyday legal needs of the poor. Though LSC's funding has increased over the past five years, those increases have not even accounted for inflation over this same period.

We estimate that, with inflation, the amount needed to merely bring LSC to pre-1996 levels would be $478 million. The ABA therefore urges Congress to restore LSC's funding to $478 million. We recognize that this cannot be accomplished at once, and ask that LSC's funding be increased to this amount over a three-year period starting with a $45 million increase in FY 2003.

Your support for adequate funding for the Legal Services Corporation would be most appreciated.


Robert D. Evans
Director, Governmental Affairs Office

cc: Members of the Appropriations Committee

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