Legal Assistance in Civil Cases Under Growing Threat

Proposed congressional funding cuts to LSC are badly timed, with civil legal needs rapidly increasing, according to the Legal Aid Society of New York.

Blog Post (New York)

John Eligon
New York Times (NYT)
September 16, 2011
Link to story

Tags: Funding: Federal, Legal Needs

Organizations mentioned/involved: Legal Services Corporation (LSC)


The Senate Appropriations Committee’s vote this week to reduce financial support for the corporation by 2 percent comes as Jonathan Lippman, the chief judge of the New York, prepares for another round of hearings to promote the need to increase civil legal services.

Judge Lippman held hearings throughout the state last year and has four more planned this year, the first of which is scheduled for Tuesday in White Plains.

Steven Banks, the chief attorney for the city’s Legal Aid Society, said the Congress’s intended cuts to the Legal Services Corporation sent the wrong message.

“This is exactly the wrong moment to be decreasing legal assistance, which is crucial to helping children and adults living in poverty obtain the basic necessities of life,” said Mr. Banks, whose organization actually does not receive any funds from the federal corporation. Legal Aid opted out several years ago because a condition of accepting the funds would have meant that they would not have been able to represent immigrants facing deportation, Mr. Banks said.

During the economic downturn of the past few years, Mr. Banks said, Legal Aid has seen an increase in requests for legal assistance in areas like obtaining food stamps and unemployment benefits, fighting foreclosure and eviction, and getting orders of protection. Because of a lack of finances, Legal Aid must turn away eight out of every nine people seeking assistance in a civil matter, Mr. Banks said.

“In every category of legal problem on the civil side we’re continuing to see dramatic increases,” Mr. Banks said. “One of the hardest things that our front-line staff has to do is turn away families and individuals whose evictions we know we could stop, whose foreclosures we know we could stop, who we know we could help get food stamps or unemployment benefits or access to health care, but we can’t because of lack of resources.”