This week BBA President Lisa Goodheart sent a letter to Senator John Kerry and the rest of the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation requesting support and protection for the funding of the Legal Services Corporation (LSC). As written about before on Issue Spot, support for legal services is a core part of the BBA’s mission and is a vital service to some of the most vulnerable people in society.
Funding for civil legal assistance in Massachusetts is a partnership between federal, state and local governments as well as private attorneys and foundations. The current economic climate has led to a substantial drop in resources for LSC programs due to both a 50 percent decrease in IOLTA revenue over the past two years and budgetary constraints among state and private contributors. All this comes at a time of unprecedented need – more than 1 in 5 Americans now qualify for legal assistance.
Legal services funding is not merely a spending issue. LSC-funded programs in Massachusetts provide critical legal services to individuals who need it most, including victims of domestic violence, veterans returning from combat, those coping with the after-effects of natural disasters, persons with disabilities, and individuals undergoing foreclosures and evictions. LSC funds four programs in Massachusetts – the Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association, the Massachusetts Justice Project, Merrimack Valley North Shore Legal Services and the New Center for Legal Advocacy – all of whom have already absorbed massive cuts to their budgets and staff.
Why is LSC funding in jeopardy now? It all goes back to August when Congress, reaching a last-minute compromise on the debt ceiling crisis, established the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. The Committee is made up of 12 lawmakers – including Massachusetts Senator John Kerry – who have been tasked with finding $1.2 trillion in budget savings by November 23rd. If the Committee is unable to come up with the necessary savings, the difference will be made up by automatic spending cuts, divided evenly among domestic and defense programs.
Senator John Kerry and, in general, the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation have been supportive of legal services. They understand that legal aid attorneys provide meaningful representation to people who have no place else to turn. Despite the presence in Congress of legal aid advocates who appreciate the importance of legal services, the fiscal situation before the Committee is daunting. Funding cuts threaten to adversely impact our neighbors, friends, families, and communities. We need to do everything we can to ensure that the citizens of Massachusetts are able to receive the legal assistance they need.
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association