ILNews

Funding less for legal aid offices

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

In October, the Indiana Bar Foundation’s board of directors approved allocating $487,205 from its reserves to fund the state’s pro bono districts in 2012. The foundation distributes funds to the districts from interest on lawyer trust accounts, and those funds have been diminishing since 2009.

IOLTA funds for 2012 amounted to just $253,865, which when combined with the reserve amount, will bring total funding to $741,070. That’s about $176,000 less than 2011 and about $1.6 million less than 2010.

Chuck Dunlap Dunlap

At the end of this year, a little less than $1 million will be left in reserves.

“The difficult and philosophical question is how much of the reserve do you use?” said Charles Dunlap, the foundation’s executive director. “You don’t want to run out, but you don’t want pro bono districts to run out of money in the short-term.”

Tough times all around

Other legal services for the poor are struggling with budget woes, too. Indiana Legal Services had already weathered a round of budget cuts this year after Washington lawmakers voted to reduce funding to the Legal Services Corp., which funds ILS and other legal aid organizations around the country.

On Nov. 15, ILS learned that the LSC will lose more than $56 million in 2012 – 12.9 percent of its total budget – and that the shortfall would be passed on to field offices. The end result is a loss of nearly $819,000 for ILS in 2012, said ILS executive director Norman Metzger.

With more than 75 percent of its budget dedicated to personnel costs, Metzger said job cuts are inevitable, although he knows that some offices are already understaffed due to existing budget constraints. While it’s up to the ILS board to decide, he predicts that some of its $1 million reserve will have to be allocated to help struggling legal aid organizations.

“We aren’t going to be carrying a million dollar reserve into 2013 – the board could decide that, but I would be surprised,” Metzger said.

According to LSC statute, its board of directors must reallocate funding based on the decennial Census poverty count in each state or service area, Metzger explained. But unlike the previous 40 years, the Census Bureau in 2010 didn’t do a poverty population count.

“They wanted to go to the short form and they eliminated a lot of questions, and one of the questions they eliminated was about income. So now LSC is dealing with the Census Bureau to come up with poverty estimates,” he said.

Funding was a popular topic of conversation at the National Legal Aid & Defender Association annual conference and Centennial Celebration in Washington D.C. Dec. 7-10. Metzger, who attended, said legal aid providers across the country are struggling with waning budgets. In one session, attendees learned about possible outcomes of the upcoming LSC funds reallocation. And he said that ILS could see a measurable increase in funding, but any increase wouldn’t be realized until 2013.

LSC will look at small area income and poverty estimates and the American Community Survey to determine which parts of the country have the most need.

iolta“Louisiana, their poverty population is way down – it’s about 500,000 or 600,000 less in Louisiana in 2010 than in the year 2000, and the reason for that is Hurricane Katrina. A lot of the people that left were poor people,” Metzger said. He said in that same time frame, Indiana’s poverty population has increased 28.4 percent. “So Louisiana may be cut by 30 percent, and Indiana would get a 20-percent increase.”

Metzger said he would hesitate to call that good news for Indiana, because any increase in funding would simply be a reflection of greater poverty levels. He also said that anticipating an increase in LSC funding might be a gamble.

“So the question is: how do we go about planning?” he said.

Many unknowns

Indiana’s pro bono districts are realigning in 2012. District 7, based in Terre Haute, will be absorbed by the immediate surrounding districts. Sullivan and Vigo counties will become part of District 13, the Volunteer Lawyer Program of Southwestern Indiana; Clay and Putnam counties will become part of District 10; and Vermillion and Parke counties will become part of District 4. Dunlap said District 7 currently does not have a plan administrator.

Richmond’s District 9 will become part of District 8 – Legal Volunteers of Southeast Indiana. Currently, Richmond has a part-time plan administrator, and Dunlap said how staffing may change was still being discussed.

Monica Fennell, executive director of the Indiana Pro Bono Commission, said she hoped realignment would not have a negative impact on services and that each district has a great amount of autonomy in determining its priorities from year to year.

But what Fennell and Dunlap cannot predict is when IOLTA interest rates will rebound.

“The bottom line is, we’re in the third year of close to a zero interest rate nationally,” Dunlap said. “The open question is: how long is the interest rate environment going to be like this?”

Some pro bono districts have other funding sources, and ILS has other grantors, too. But with such uncertain economic times, it’s hard to say if other funding sources will remain steady.

Norm Metzger mug Metzger

“It’s not just LSC, it’s not just IOLTA … it’s other funding, like United Way is down,” Metzger said. He said that ILS had seven grants from different United Way offices. Four of those are down, and one was eliminated.

Scott Wylie, plan administrator for the VLP of Southwestern Indiana, said that pro bono resources are increasingly challenged to meet the needs of the public.

“I think it’s a situation that’s affecting every county in Indiana, and that is we will have fewer resources to cover a greater number of people. So it’s going to mean that fewer people are going to be linked to pro bono assistance – it’s just a sad reality,” Wylie said.

Metzger is concerned not only about legal services for the poor in Indiana, but nationwide.

“There was stimulus money that created legal aid funding for homeless people, stimulus money that created legal aid funding for mortgage foreclosure – all of that money now has come to an end,” he said.

The ILS board of directors has a meeting scheduled for Dec. 22, at which time they will begin looking at ways to cope with the budget reduction.

“It’s hard to have a joyous holiday spirit knowing that we’re going to be laying off people,” Metzger said.•

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

ADVERTISEMENT