Op-Ed (New York)
Eleanor J. Bader
March 5, 2014
Link to full text
Tags: Children & Juvenile, Consumer Protection, Funding: State & Local, Housing: Landlord-Tenant, Legal Needs
Organizations mentioned/involved: Legal Services NYC (LSNYC)
As the primary provider of free legal assistance to New York City’s poorest residents—unlike the Legal Aid Society, [Legal Services-NYC (LS-NYC)] handles only civil cases—demand sorely outpaces available resources. Indeed, Citidata.com estimates that 27.6 percent of Brooklyn residents live on incomes below the official poverty line, $11,490 for individuals and $23,400 for a household of four, making virtually all of them financially eligible for Legal Services.
The biggest challenge, says Raun Rasmussen, executive director of LS-NYC, is in figuring out how to serve the largest number of people despite ongoing budgetary shortfalls. “There have been huge cuts to Legal Services since the economic downturn,” he says. “The largest cut came from the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) in D.C., the overseer and primary funder of Legal Services’ 800 offices. Our grant went from $17.5 million to $10 million for fiscal 2014. Part of this is due to Congressional hostility to domestic spending and part is a result of sequestration. In addition, the 2010 Census showed fewer poor people in New York City so we lost money based on these figures. Unfortunately, we still have a million poor people in the city and we barely serve 10 percent of them.”
Thankfully, he adds, LS-NYC has been able to raise some money from foundations and other non-LSC sources. Nonetheless, the organization has had to reduce its staff, from 385 in 2010 to 285 today.