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Indiana Legal Services’ case load likely to increase with additional federal dollars

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After watching its federal appropriation sink to $4.7 million during the economic downturn, Indiana Legal Services is set to receive a boost in funding for the 2014 calendar year.

The extra money is part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2014 which was approved by Congress in mid-January. ILS’s parent organization, Legal Services Corp., is receiving an appropriation of $365 million, up from the $340.88 million it received in 2013.

Indiana Legal Services’ total funding – calculated based on the percentage of residents in each state living in poverty – will be $6.53 million, a 6.18 percent increase from 2013.

“That’s good news,” said Norman Metzger, executive director of ILS. “Now we have to decide how to spend it.”

The ILS board of directors is scheduled to discuss ways to use the new money during its March meeting. Possibilities include giving pay raises to the employees and increasing the funds for contracts with private attorneys to provide legal services to ILS clients, especially in rural areas. Also, the board could decided to use the appropriation to move forward with some items on the nonprofit’s strategic plan.

“I think the board will end up doing two or three things,” Metzger said, noting boosting all three areas will potentially result in a 10 to 15 percent increase in the number of cases handled by ILS. In 2013, the agency closed 7,300 cases while about 3,000 remained open.

In late 2013, ILS gave all staff attorneys a $3,000 pay raise which increased the starting attorney annual salary from $42,000 to $45,000.

The $25 million increase in federal funding is the first increase Legal Services Corp. has recorded since 2010. However, adjusting for inflation, the latest appropriation is millions of dollars less than the $611.44 million granted in 1995 or the $413.13 million received in 2004.

Legal Services Corp. will use $2.5 million of the new money for the Pro Bono Innovation Fund. The fund will be used to establish a competitive grant program to develop and test new ways to provide pro bono services to indigent clients.

 

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