Civil Legal Aid and the Judiciary: We Need Your Help
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Civil Legal Aid and the Judiciary: Thank you for your help!

Last week, we asked for your help in ensuring key access to justice-related items were adequately funded in the FY19 budget, urging you to reach out to your Representatives in support of proposed amendments that would increase funding for civil legal aid and ensure the successful expansion of the Housing Court.

Thank you to all those who responded to our call to action, and to the hard work of those like the Equal Justice Coalition and the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute’s (MLRI), Housing Court 4 All Coalition. See below how the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) and Housing Court Expansion fared in the House debates.

Don’t know who to call? Look up your Representative here.

Below is a brief breakdown of the issues (for more information check out our letter to HWM Chair Jeffrey Sanchez where we elaborate on our budget priorities, and these handy fact sheets on MLAC and the Housing Court).

Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC)

• Request: $23 Million
• Governor’s Budget: $18.18 Million
• House Ways and Means Budget: $20 Million
Final House Budget: $20.75 million

Join us in expressing our deep gratitude to the House for heeding your calls about the importance of civil legal aid and increasing the appropriation, especially to the leadership of civil legal aid champions Rep. Ruth Balser and Rep. Claire Cronin. You can read Rep. Cronin’s speech on the floor here.

Statewide Housing Court Expansion

• Request: $2.6 million
• Governor’s Budget: $2.6 million
• House Ways and Means Budget: $1.5 million
Final House Budget: $1.5 million

Tenancy Preservation Program

• Request: $1.3 million                
• Governor’s Budget: $500,000
• House Ways and Means Budget: $500,000
Final House Budget: $750,000

As we’ve noted, the recent statewide expansion fo the Housing Court will ensure that all residents of the Commonwealth, including the nearly one-third that previously lacked access, now enjoy the many advantages Housing Court has to offer. This includes judges who have specialized knowledge on all, often complex housing law matters, housing specialists who help tenants and landlords settle and mediate cases, and the Lawyer for the Day program which offers assistance for unrepresented tenants and landlords that otherwise cannot afford it.

We are very grateful that Rep. Chris Walsh once again stepped up to lead the fight for adequate funding for the Housing Court, and though the amendment filed to ensure full funding of the Statewide Expansion of the Housing Court did not make it into the final House Budget, the expansion is still in full swing and just this week Governor Baker announced the nominees for five new Housing Court judgeships.

The Tenancy Preservation Program (TPP) fared a bit better, and an additional $250,000 was added in the final House Budget. As we’ve noted, the TPP provides a unique intervention that enables trained counselors to assist with services in cases involving persons with disability, helping to prevent homelessness and shelter stays. A big thanks goes to Rep. Byron Rushing for his hard work to ensure the full state enjoys the important benefits of this program.

Thank you, again, for the help in supporting these access to justice line-items! Of course, the work is only just beginning, so stay tuned for opportunities to ensure the Senate, whose own Ways and Means budget is due out May 10, also prioritizes these important line-items.

The Boston Bar Association traces its origins to meetings convened by John Adams, who provided pro bono representation to the British soldiers prosecuted for the Boston Massacre and went on to become the nation’s second president. Its mission is to advance the highest standards of excellence for the legal profession, facilitate access to justice, serve the community at large and promote diversity and inclusion.
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