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Cuts proposed to LSC budget would affect ILS

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Among approximately 70 proposed budget cuts, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee has proposed cutting $75 million, or 17 percent of the budget for the Legal Services Corporation, which funds 136 civil legal aid programs around the country, the committee announced Wednesday. The full list of proposed cuts is on the committee’s website.

In Indiana, Indiana Legal Services Inc. receives about two-thirds of its funding from LSC. For 2010, ILS received $5.8 million and has budgeted 2011 based on the 2010 budget.

The current and immediate past chairs of the board of LSC, the president of the American Bar Association, and the executive director of ILS have all spoken out against this proposed cut.

Norman Metzger, executive director of ILS, said even a hypothetical 5 percent cut, or about $291,000 if there’s an omnibus budget passed with a 5 percent cut across the board, would be a difficult loss for ILS to handle at this time.

“I’m very concerned,” he said. “We’re stable, but I struggled after three years of convincing my board to give a pay raise. … Any kind of cuts to our funding will be devastating.”

He added that other funding for the organization has taken a hit, including United Way support and other grants the organization receives to make up the other third of its funding.

“Any cut is harmful, but when you combine one cut here with one cut there, it’s even worse,” he said.

Metzger said he’s not sure if there will be a 17 percent cut because the legislative process may change the actual amount and that the budget will still need approval from the U.S. Senate and the president. Something will be decided by early March, and if there is a large cut, he said, it is unfortunate but he will need to make some decisions about ILS-funded programs.

In their statement issued late Wednesday, LSC Board Chairman John G. Levi and Frank B. Strickland, immediate past chair, wrote “Nearly 57 million Americans are now eligible for LSC-funded services and the numbers are growing because of hardships created by the nation’s weak economy. LSC-funded programs are making every effort to extend their resources as far as they can possibly go, but because of the enormous need, they have had no choice but to turn away far too many people because of inadequate resources, as documented by previous Justice Gap Reports issued by LSC. Many of these programs have already suffered a significant decline in state and local funding.”

“This is the time to reflect on the words of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr: ‘Equal justice under law is not merely a caption on the facade of the Supreme Court building, it is perhaps the most inspiring ideal of our society. It is one of the ends for which our entire legal system exists ... it is fundamental that justice should be the same, in substance and availability, without regard to economic status,’” they continued.

ABA President Stephen N. Zack also issued a statement about the proposed cuts.

“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. Every cent spent helping families deal with crises such as eviction, child support and custody, or a domestic violence restraining order ultimately saves taxpayer money. Financial and emotional costs grow when problems go unsolved,” Zack wrote. “ … Legal aid providers in every area of the country are already hurting from years of underfunding, worsened by the effects of the recession. That is shocking and unacceptable, and in the name of justice for all, we will not allow it to happen.”

House Appropriations Committee Chair Hal Rogers said the cuts in this bill “will represent the largest reduction in discretionary spending in the history of our nation. While making these cuts is hard, we have a unique opportunity to right our fiscal ship and begin to reduce our massive deficits and debt. We have taken a wire brush to the discretionary budget and scoured every program to find real savings that are responsible and justifiable to the American people. … We will respond to the millions of Americans who have called on this Congress to rein in spending to help our economy grow and our businesses create jobs.”
 

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