The BBA is extremely pleased that the Legislature has seen fit to demonstrate its commitment to civil legal aid with a $1 million increase in its appropriation for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC), the state’s leading provider of funds for legal services, in the FY17 budget being voted on today.
This commitment, in the face of a looming budget gap that potentially approaches $1 billion, demonstrates the overwhelming support for civil legal aid among legislators. It also shows that the message of our BBA Task Force to Expand Civil Legal Aid in Massachusetts -that MLAC funding produces a positive return on investment by preventing “back-end” costs-has gotten through.
“In less than two years since our report, the Legislature has now approved a 20% increase in MLAC funding, from $15 million to $18 million,” said former BBA President J.D. Smeallie , who chaired the Task Force. “We are very grateful to all our many supporters there, including Speaker Robert DeLeo, Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, Ways & Means Committee chairs Senator Karen Spilka and Representative Brian Dempsey, as well as the rest of the budget conference committee, and the legislators who filed floor amendments seeking higher funding levels.”
At the same time, it is unfortunate that the dire fiscal climate led the conference committee to provide only about $640 million to the Trial Court, well below the $654 million they would need to maintain service at current levels. This will present a number of significant challenges, from a limited ability to correct infrastructure problems-with many court houses in need of major repairs and overdue security updates-to delaying expansion of the Specialty Courts program, which addresses the issues underlying criminal behavior and produces great outcomes by reducing recidivism. Nevertheless, we do appreciate that the Legislature saw fit to provide an increase at a time when many other line-items are being level-funded for FY17.
In addition, although the statewide expansion of the successful and efficient Housing Court department-which covers less than 70% of the state’s population-was not included in the budget, we will continue to advocate for legislation that would achieve the same result and bring all Massachusetts residents within that Court’s jurisdiction.
To read a more detailed breakdown of the budget, check out our Budget Update blog post .