White House Budget Would Defund Legal Help for Veterans, Seniors, and Children
From Julia R. Wilson (email@example.com) at OneJustice:
San Francisco, CA (May 23, 2017) – The budget proposed today by the Trump Administration would end our country’s investment in civil legal aid for the poor, leaving veterans, seniors, and families suffering from solvable legal problems. The White House’s full budget for fiscal year 2018 would provide funding only to support the shutdown of the Legal Services Corporation, which funds civil legal aid for the poor in all 50 states. The Trump Administration’s budget also proposes to eliminate to a federal loan forgiveness program that allows attorneys to choose lives of public service.
“If adopted, this budget would effectively nullify a cornerstone of equal justice in America,” said Julia Wilson, CEO of OneJustice and staff to Californians for Legal Aid. “Our entire legal system would become unaffordable for low-income veterans, seniors, families, and children. Fortunately, Congress has consistently shown strong, bipartisan support for funding the Legal Services Corporation, understanding that civil legal aid is critically important to ensuring our nation’s core values of fairness, justice, and the rule of law.”
The White House released its budget proposal today. The call to end funding for legal aid is on page 98, and the public service loan forgiveness program is on page 129. Both programs ensure that nearly 20% of the U.S. population (over 60 million people) has a level playing field in our court system, even though they cannot afford a lawyer.
“As we continue to make the case for increased funding for legal aid in fiscal year 2018, we are heartened by demonstrated bipartisan Congressional support, as well as the support of leaders in the business and legal communities who have joined the fight. Over 150 heads of U.S. law firms and general counsel from almost 200 companies signed letters stating their support for federal legal aid funding. State Supreme Court Justices, Attorneys General, law school deans, and other civil society leaders have also reinforced the call to continue federal funding for civil legal services.”
Access to our civil justice system is not a luxury. Rather, as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said about the Legal Services Corporation just three years ago, “this organization pursues the most fundamental of American ideals, and it pursues equal justice in those areas of life most important to the lives of our citizens.”
Background on federal funding for civil legal aid for low-income Californians
The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) is an independent nonprofit established by Congress in 1974 in recognition that the ability to seek justice through the law—regardless of income level—is fundamental to the fairness of our society. LSC promotes equal access to justice by providing funding to 133 independent nonprofit legal aid organizations throughout the country – including 11 nonprofits in California.
The federal government is the largest funder for legal aid in California; the Legal Services Corporation provides over $44 million per year to fund services for low-income Californians. Over 200,000 Californians access this legal assistance each year. Cutting funding would especially harm California’s rural communities. If rural programs have to close offices, then those Californians will have nowhere else to go.
Legal aid services prevent homelessness, hunger, domestic violence, elder abuse, and death due to inadequate access to health care. Legal aid programs help the most economically disadvantaged members of our community. They protect the lowest-income veterans, children, seniors, people with disabilities, and victims of natural disasters.
Background on loan forgiveness for the attorneys who choose lives of public service
Cutting funding for legal aid will eliminate positions at legal aid programs. Ending the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program will make the few remaining positions unaffordable. Public service loan forgiveness provides attorneys a critical incentive to accept a job in legal aid by forgiving the remaining balance on Direct Loans after 120 qualifying monthly payments under a qualifying repayment plan while working full-time for a qualifying employer. This program is the only reason many attorneys who have high student debt from college and law school can afford to take positions at civil legal aid nonprofits.
Californians for Legal Aid is a diverse coalition of Californians who believe deeply in justice for all. OneJustice is a statewide nonprofit that brings life-changing legal help to those in need by transforming the civil legal aid delivery system.