Legal Services Corporation on the Budget Chopping Block (UPDATE: Obama Administration Proposes BOOST in LSC Funding)
[EDIT: we had some math wrong in our initial blog post, so we wish to clarify that the House Appropriations Committee had proposed a global budget cut of $75 billion, within which there was a proposed $75 million cut to the LSC. Subsequent to that proposal, the Appropriations Committee raised its global budget cut to $100 billion, which risks raising the LSC cut even more. (Depending on how you read the numbers, we understand that the new proposal may include an LSC budget cut that is slightly higher than $75 million.) Sorry if our confusion caused any on your end.]
LSC took a blow last week. First, the House Appropriations Committee proposed slashing $75 million from LSC’s budget in a larger $75 billion federal budget-cutting measure. Then, as reported by the National Law Journal: (article may be password-protected)
The Legal Services Corp. has survived any number of near-death experiences in its 34-year history. But the agency that funds civil legal services for the poor may be facing its biggest challenge yet at the hands of congressional budget cutters.
On Feb. 9, the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee included a $75 million cut for the LSC in its plan for eliminating $74 billion from the federal budget. The next day, after demands for more cuts from Tea Party adherents, the committee upped its goal to $100 billion in cuts.
[Emphasis by PSLawNet Blog]. The $75 billion proposed cut would have been bad enough. We wonder how much more may come out of LSC’s appropriation with the committee’s new proposal. When the proposal was announced last week, LSC got quickly into gear spreading word about the damage it could do to legal services providers and the client communities they serve:
A congressional proposal to cut $75 million from the Legal Services Corporation’s (LSC) budget would decimate civil legal aid to low-income Americans at a time when it is most needed by the tens of millions suffering economic hardship.The proposed $75 million funding cut would represent a 17 percent reduction from the White House’s Fiscal Year 2011 budget request of $435 million for LSC and a 14 percent decline from LSC’s current funding level, $420 million.
And in a separate statement, LSC’s Board Chair and immediate past chair expressed what’s at stake in terms of a budget cut:
At a time when more Americans are eligible for civil legal assistance than ever before in the Corporation’s history, the House Appropriations Committee unfortunately has proposed an extraordinary and immediate cut of $75 million – or 17 percent – from the White House’s Fiscal Year 2011 budget request for LSC.
As Chairman and immediate past Chairman of the Board of an organization charged with being one of the keepers of the flame of equal justice in this country, it is our responsibility to let the country know when that flame is flickering far too low. We do not know how a budget cut of this magnitude allows us to keep faith with the founding values of our great country. Regardless of fiscal pressures, we must never lose sight of our primary responsibility – to support the values of our Constitution and to provide equal access to justice for all Americans.
LSC has its budget-battle work cut out for it. According to the NLJ piece, the ABA is already coming to the aid of the equal justice community:
Stephen Zack, president of the American Bar Association, which is a longtime supporter of the LSC, said in a written statement, “Hard choices loom as to priorities for federal spending, but let’s be smart about where reductions are made.…Slashing funds that keep working class and poor people from falling into a legal and financial tailspin is not the right decision in this economy.”
If they go through, budget cuts are bound to hit LSC grantee organizations, which serve low-income individuals and families throughout the U.S., very hard. And grantees are already struggling. As the PSLawNet Blog noted a few days ago, more and more news is surfacing about staff layoffs and office closures:
- Rhode Island Legal Services was contemplating a layoff of 13 paralegals. (Providence Journal)
- New Mexico Legal Aid shut down a branch office. (El Defensor Chieftain)
- Officials in Arizona were scrambling to reverse an office closure at Southern Arizona Legal Aid. (Nogales International)
UPDATE: this is what happens when we queue up a blog post the night before to publish the next morning. The Blog of the Legal Times reports on the Obama Administration’s budget proposal, formally released yesterday, which call for an increase in LSC’s budget, by $30 million. If nothing else, this will buck up some support for LSC when budget negotiators on Capitol Hill get down to brass tacks.