PSJD Public Interest News Digest – May 19, 2017

by Christina Jackson, NALP Director of Public Service Initiatives & Fellowships

Happy Friday! The big news is the proposed budget for DOE, which includes eliminating the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, and other deep cuts to financial aid.  Coverage is below.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • New York county public defender’s office receives $750,000 grant;
  • Venable Foundation’s public interest fellowship program celebrates its 9th year;
  • ABA advocates for $450 million budget for Legal Services Corporation;
  • Northeastern University School of Law launches Pro Bono Collaboration;
  • New York state senator allocates funding to Her Justice for immigration legal assistance;
  • PSLF is in danger — but we knew that;
  • Judge blocked nationwide enforcement of rule preventing nonprofits from providing legal assistance to detained immigrants;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants; and
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

May 13, 2017 – “The state Office of Indigent Legal Services has awarded Cattaraugus County another counsel on first appearance grant for $746,125 to keep the program. The goal is to provide an attorney when a police officer arrests someone and brings them before a judge for arraignment. In the past, these defendants were often jailed in lieu of bail. Public Defender Mark Williams, whose office applied for the grants, said the first grant allowed his office to hire an additional attorney, another investigator and clerical staff.” (Olean Times Herald)

May 15, 2017 – “Continuing its commitment to advancing legal support for the public sector, Venable LLP has awarded four public interest fellowships to students from Fordham Law School, New York University Law School, and Columbia University School of Law who are undertaking public service internships this summer with nonprofits or government entities. Launched by the firm’s New York office in 2008, the Venable Foundation Public Interest Fellowship provides financial support to first-year law students in New York who are pursuing public service internships in New York City or in other cities where Venable maintains an office. The Fellowship recipients are chosen on the basis of their academic performance, demonstrated qualities of leadership, and commitment to the use of the law to further the public good. ” (Venable News & Insights)

May 15, 2017 – “ABA President Linda Klein submitted a statement to the U.S. Senate on Friday urging them to set the Legal Services Corp. budget to $450 million for 2018. Klein’s statement is largely similar to her testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives in early May. It echoes the lobbying which the ABA has been doing on the LSC’s behalf since President Donald Trump’s proposed budget was announced, one which would eliminate all LSC funding. The LSC is the largest provider of civil legal aid in the nation. ‘Funding for equal justice under federal law cannot be shouldered by state and local governments as an unfunded mandate,’ Klein wrote in her statement. ‘The federal government should contribute its fair share. That can only be accomplished through funding the Legal Services Corporation.’ Lawmakers struck a budget deal at the end of April which includes funding for the LSC at the current level of $385 million through the end of the fiscal year in September. But there has not yet been an agreement on what level of funding — if any — will be appropriated for the LSC in Fiscal Year 2018.” (ABA Journal)

May 15, 2017 – “Northeastern University School of Law has seen an increased need for volunteers in the legal arena thanks to changing federal priorities — to help defeat recent federal executive orders and proposed changes that would cut back on individual rights and freedoms. That’s why it has recently launched a new Pro Bono Collaboration, so students can fill that need. The new program provides law students with the opportunity to provide pro bono legal research and assistance to organizations such as the ACLU, Political Asylum Immigration Representation Project, Greater Boston Legal Services, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, the National Lawyers Guild and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, among others. ‘The reaction to the election inspired many people to increase their involvement in representing immigrants, refugees and LGBTQ individuals,’ said professor Lucy Williams, faculty director for public interest and pro bono initiatives. ‘The law school wanted to create an outlet for that energy. We hope the Pro Bono Collaboration will provide a permanent benefit to the community.’ Professor Wally Holohan will lead the new collaboration. Student volunteers will handle a wide range of responsibilities, including meeting with immigrants being held in ICE detention facilities, conducting research and discovery, performing intake for hate incidents, harassment and intimidation and organizing trainings. Students in the NUSL Pro Bono Collaboration will spend approximately 10 to 15 hours per week volunteering over an 11-week academic quarter.” (National Jurist)

May 15, 2017 – “State Senator Jose Peralta announced a $50,000 state allocation to Her Justice, an organization that provides legal services to women in need. Her Justice, with the assistance of law firms, helps hundreds of women who have been victims of crime to obtain ‘U’ visas. Peralta and Her Justice are partnering with other nonprofits to assist immigrant families and hold ‘Know your Rights’ forums.” “Her Justice is a non-profit organization that takes a ‘pro bono first’ approach to the provision of legal services to low-income women in crisis in all five boroughs of New York City. The staff of 18 lawyers and legal assistants trains, recruits and supervises volunteer attorneys from over 80 law firms to ensure that more than 3,000 vulnerable women every year receive free legal assistance in family, divorce and immigration matters.”(Queens Gazette)

May 17, 2017 – “Funding for college work-study programs would be cut in half, public-service loan forgiveness would end and hundreds of millions of dollars that public schools could use for mental health, advanced coursework and other services would vanish under a Trump administration plan to cut $10.6 billion from federal education initiatives, according to budget documents obtained by The Washington Post.” “The administration is also seeking to overhaul key elements of federal financial aid. The spending proposal would maintain funding for Pell Grants for students in financial need, but it would eliminate more than $700 million in Perkins loans for disadvantaged students; nearly halve the work-study program that helps students work their way through school, cutting $490 million; take a first step toward ending subsidized loans, for which the government pays interest while the borrower is in school; and end loan forgiveness for public servants. The loan forgiveness program, enacted in 2007, was designed to encourage college graduates to pursue careers as social workers, teachers, public defenders or doctors in rural areas. There are at least 552,931 people on track to receive the benefit, with the first wave of forgiveness set for October. It’s unclear how the proposed elimination would affect those borrowers. The administration also wants to replace five income-driven student loan repayment plans with a single plan. That change would likely benefit many undergraduate borrowers, who currently can have the balance of their loan forgiven after paying 10 percent of their income for 20 years. Trump’s proposal — which makes good on a campaign promise — would raise the maximum payment to 12.5 percent of income, but shorten the payment period to 15 years. The proposal is less sweet for borrowers who take out loans to earn advanced degrees. They currently pay monthly bills capped at 10 percent of income for 25 years. Under the new plan, they’d pay more (12.5 percent of income) for longer (30 years). There were no estimates on how much the government would save by eliminating public-service loan forgiveness, overhauling the income-based repayment plans and ending subsidized loans.” (Washington Post)

Additional coverage and a breakdown of programs with proposed funding cuts or elimination. (Forbes)

And Slate has a good summary article. (Slate)

May 17, 2017 – “A federal judge in Seattle has blocked nationwide enforcement of a rule to prevent nonprofits from providing legal assistance to detained immigrants. U.S. District Judge Richard Jones found the Seattle-based Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and other legal assistance groups would suffer ‘significant harm’ if the Justice Department enforced a 2008 rule designed to prevent victimization of detained immigrants by people who pretend to be attorneys. The group sued May 8, after receiving a cease-and-desist notice from the Justice Department saying it must commit to full legal representation for every immigrant it advises or refrain from giving any legal advice whatsoever. Calling the order ‘a new and novel’ interpretation of the rule, the group says it violates attorneys’ First and 10th Amendment rights and would prevent many immigrants from receiving any legal assistance. At a Wednesday hearing, Jones ordered the Justice Department to stop enforcing the rule against the Seattle-based group and nationwide, saying the government had threatened to send similar cease-and-desist notices to other nonprofits providing legal aid to immigrants.” (Courthouse News Service)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

“This month the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) celebrates its first 40 years of life. NCLR is a non-profit, public interest law firm in the United States that advocates for equitable public policies affecting the LGBT community, provides free legal assistance to LGBT clients and their legal advocates, and conducts community education on LGBT legal issues. Headquartered in San Francisco with an office in Washington, D.C., it is the only organization in the U.S. dedicated to lesbian legal issues, and the largest national lesbian organization in terms of members. Each year, NCLR shapes the legal landscape for all LGBT people and families across the nation through its precedent-setting litigation, legislation, policy, and public education. For 40 years NCLR has led historic cases, and is still blazing trails in pursuit of justice, fairness, and legal protections for all LGBT people.” Congratulations!! (People’s World)

Music Bonus! Music pick from the PSJD Fellow Delisa Morris.

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