When The Florida Bar Foundation board meets Dec. 5, it will face some tough decisions.
Even anticipating a $6 million loan recently approved by The Florida Bar Board of Governors to be made over the next two years, the Foundation this year will have only $7.7 million available for its legal aid grantees, a 34 percent decrease from last year. In spite of having set aside the largest reserve of any Interest on Trust Accounts Program in the country, and having made it last through five years of near-zero interest rates, the Foundation faces the exhaustion of its reserve this year. We also have had four consecutive vetoes of civil legal assistance funding under Fla. Gov. Rick Scott.
The board therefore must consider various scenarios for making cuts not only to the Foundation’s general support grants for legal aid, but also to programs such as affordable housing grants and salary supplementation for legal aid attorneys. The Foundation continues to advise its grantees of impending cuts.
Under any scenario, the cuts are expected to necessitate layoffs of legal aid attorneys and other staff, along with other serious consequences. The board will consider the overall funding picture for the Foundation’s grantees — including funding available to each from other sources — in making decisions about how to allocate the limited funds available.
In spite of already steep cuts, Florida’s legal aid organizations continue to do incredible work. The stories in this issue illustrate how vital legal aid is in meeting Floridians’ basic needs through the legal process and show us why a far-reaching, high-level initiative on access to justice is so important. We look forward in the coming months to Chief Justice Jorge Labarga’s launch of this effort, which we believe will be a game-changer for Florida’s justice system. We ask you to support the Foundation as it works with the Florida Supreme Court and The Florida Bar to be a part of a long-term solution.
Hon. Emerson R. Thompson, Jr., President The Florida Bar Foundation