In his first federal budget, President Trump proposed to eliminate the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) and its $366 million in federal appropriations. Not only does this place our nation’s most vulnerable people at risk, it is fiscally irresponsible to cut a program that ultimately saves taxpayers money.
LSC is an independent nonprofit established by Congress in 1974 to provide financial support for civil legal aid to low-income Americans. LSC is a grant-making organization, distributing more than 93% of its federal appropriation to eligible nonprofits delivering civil legal aid. It is the largest single funder of civil legal aid in the country, including $5 million annually to Massachusetts-based legal services organizations.
The need for this essential service is undeniable. In the United States, 80 percent of qualified applicants – those who meet the income eligibility requirements and face serious legal problems – are turned away simply because there isn’t adequate funding to take them on as clients. This figure is unacceptably high. These are people being wrongfully evicted from homes, people trying to safely escape abusive partners, parents trying to advocate for a beloved child with special needs, and veterans trying to secure the benefits that are rightfully theirs.
In 2014, the Boston Bar Association (BBA) released Investing in Justice, a report which showed that taking a preventive approach to legal issues would help families, save government funds and ensure fairness in our justice system. Simply put, investing in civil legal aid programs pays dividends by avoiding back-end costs.
For example, for every dollar spent on civil legal aid in eviction and foreclosure cases, the state stands to save $2.69 on the costs of other state services, such as emergency shelter, health care, foster care, and law enforcement.
And for victims of domestic violence, every $1 spent on legal aid yields $2 in medical and mental health care savings, including $1 to the state and $1 to the federal government.
The Boston Bar Association has long argued that legal assistance is an essential service for those who are struggling to deal with the issues that go to the heart of their families and livelihoods, like housing and personal safety. But we can also make the case that it is the fiscally prudent thing to do.
Others can, too. We need our leaders in Washington to understand that ensuring that every American has access to justice is not only a just cause, but a sound investment that is worth our resources.