Statement by Florida Bar Foundation President Matthew Brenner on Legal Services Corporation funding

Legal Aid Defender Graphic

Legal Aid Defender GraphicThe Florida Bar Foundation is calling upon all who believe in equal justice under law to urge their members of Congress to continue to fully fund the Legal Services Corporation, which President Trump’s budget proposal would completely defund.

The Legal Services Corporation, in many parts of the country, is the only funding source for civil legal aid for low-income Americans. This funding is vital to maintaining the stability and restoring the productivity of people facing civil legal issues from domestic violence to foreclosure to consumer fraud. It is also instrumental to disaster survivors trying to rebuild their lives. With offices in every congressional district, LSC-funded organizations help almost 1.9 million Americans a year.

The LSC is particularly vital to residents of rural areas, where there is often little or no other funding available for civil legal assistance. For example, Florida Rural Legal Services, which serves the rural counties surrounding Florida’s Lake Okeechobee, receives nearly three-quarters of its funding from the Legal Services Corporation. Without LSC, the phrase “justice for all” would be essentially meaningless in these rural communities, along with many others from the Keys on up through the Florida Panhandle.

Furthermore, failure to fund legal aid is damaging to our economy. Although Florida boasts the nation’s fourth largest economy, its economic engine is based largely on low-wage workers, most of whom are LSC-eligible.

Florida has the nation’s fifth highest rate of uninsured, a million children living in poverty, the nation’s third largest population of disabled veterans, and more victims of human trafficking than all U.S. states but California and Texas. We also have more than 100,000 crimes of domestic violence a year and more seniors per capita than any other state. Many of these individuals are living in LSC-eligible households, which for a family of four is one whose household income is less than $30,750 a year.

Funding civil legal aid to ensure that these vulnerable populations have advocates in times of crisis makes good economic sense. When a domestic violence or human trafficking victim receives legal protection, emergency services and medical costs can be avoided. When an LSC-funded program can save the home of a veteran, an elderly widow, or a family recovering from job loss, those living there won’t end up homeless, and the value of the surrounding homes remains steady. These are among the reasons why every dollar invested in legal aid in Florida provides a return of $7 in economic impact, a recent Florida Bar Foundation-funded study found.

Defunding LSC would remove more than $21 million a year from Florida’s legal aid system, taking away nearly $150 million in annual economic impact and leaving about 90,000 Floridians, including thousands of veteran households, without the legal assistance the LSC has provided through the federal budgetary process.

It also would undermine the bedrock principles of the U.S Constitution. As the late Justice Antonin Scalia said in 2014, the LSC “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.”

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Tell Congress you will fight for the Legal Services Corporation

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