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Legal aid budgets remain steady

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While the need for services for indigent Hoosiers during these tough economic times continues to increase, civil legal aid providers are reporting that budgets for 2011 will be similar to those of 2010, and the numbers of cases handled in 2010 are comparable to 2009.

This is in stark contrast to Indiana pro bono districts, which experienced a significant decrease in funding from 2010 to 2011. Most of the funding for the pro bono districts, overseen by the Indiana Pro Bono Commission, comes from Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts, or IOLTA, distributed by the Indiana Bar Foundation. With historically low interest rates, the decrease in those funds was expected. The amount of revenues from IOLTA shrank by half each year for the last few years.

While some of those districts do receive support in the form of funds and in-kind donations from individual donors, law firms, and local bar associations, the bulk of their funding is from the IBF’s distribution of IOLTA funds. After a record high of $1.68 million distributed for 2009, $1.57 million was allocated to the districts for their 2010 budgets, including $401,619 distributed from the reserves.

A total of $917,173 will be distributed to the districts for 2011. This includes just under $428,000 of the IOLTA funds accumulated between mid-2009 and mid-2010, plus an additional $489,304 from the reserves. An additional $497,645 was requested but was not granted for 2011 budgets. The 2011 budget was $653,694 less than the 2010 budget.

As a result of these cuts, many of the pro bono districts reported decreases in staff members, staff hours, benefits, recognition for volunteer attorneys, programs, and travel expenses for outreach.

Explanation of how these funding cuts will affect the pro bono districts and their clients was reported in the Dec. 22, 2010 – Jan. 4, 2011 edition of Indiana Lawyer, “Indiana pro bono districts take a hit.”

However, three civil legal aid providers – Indiana Legal Services, which reaches all 92 counties with eight offices around the state; Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic, which has offices and intake sites in Indianapolis and Fort Wayne; and Indianapolis Legal Aid Society, the oldest of the three having just celebrated its 70th anniversary – report that they are in the black for 2011.

While none of these organizations report needing to cut staff or programs for 2011, all three are cautiously moving forward in terms of adding new programs. Only NCLC reported a somewhat significant increase in its budget for 2011, but that was due to a grant for a new program that will start in March.

Josh Abel, executive director of NCLC, said its funding had increased slightly each year for the last few years. He said the organization was in the process of starting a program that would use the new grant to help homeowners facing foreclosures. However, he added, there are very specific guidelines as to who NCLC can help with the grant it received.

NCLC also has a slightly different base of supporters than ILAS or ILS because of its faith-based mission: congregations. Abel said its three main sources of support were from individual donors; corporate sponsors, which have included law firms; and churches in the areas where they assist clients.

Like NCLC, ILAS also relies on individual donors for support.

John Floreancig Floreancig

ILAS executive director John Floreancig reported that the organization was in the black for 2011, following a successful direct mail campaign in late 2010.

Floreancig said that while the consistent supporters donated to 2011’s budget at levels similar to past years and he and office manager Jacqueline Leverenz expected to receive more donation checks going forward, they didn’t notice as many new donors or small donations as they have in the past.

“During the dollar drive, we’d have donors who would send the $20 bill they had in their wallet along with the dollar from the dollar letter,” Floreancig said. “We haven’t been seeing that as much this time.”

ILS receives about two-thirds of its funding from Legal Services Corporation, and the rest of its funding from more than 50 sources, including seven grants from local United Way organizations. It is the only legal aid organization in Indiana to receive funds from LSC, which is funded by Congress.

Norm Metzger mug Metzger

Executive director Norman Metzger said that ILS has learned it will receive $5,818,996 from LSC for 2011, the same amount ILS received from LSC in 2010. That amount was slightly higher than the $5,397,030 the organization received from LSC in 2009.

He said the 2011 LSC budget is based on a congressional resolution until both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives can agree on a budget to send to the president for his approval.

Metzger said he hoped there would be no decrease, but did not expect an increase.

He said based on the projected budget for 2011, this is also the first time in three years that staff will receive a pay raise.

legalaid-chartILS, NCLC, and ILAS also are the top three recipients of funding from the Indiana Civil Legal Aid Fund, which distributed $1.5 million to 11 organizations in mid-2010 by the Division of State Court Administration. None of those organizations expected that fund to change due to the support of the Indiana Supreme Court for civil legal aid.

ILS received $957,285, followed by NCLC, which received $158,127, and ILAS received $94,606.

The remaining $289,980 was divided among the Volunteer Lawyer Program of Northeast Indiana Inc., Community Organizations Legal Assistance Program (Community Development Law Center), Law School Legal Service, Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Legal Aid Society of Evansville, Elkhart Legal Aid Service, Legal Aid - District Eleven, and Legal Aid Corporation of Tippecanoe County.

ILS, NCLC, and ILAS also receive grants for specific programs. For example, ILAS receives a grant for a program that helps seniors stay in their homes, NCLC has the foreclosure program starting in the spring, and ILS has a program that helps migrant farmers.

The organizations also reported that while they haven’t seen a dramatic change in the number of cases they handled from 2009 to 2010, they have seen changes in the types of cases. They also expect going forward that they may have to turn away more clients, and they are unsure if the decrease in funding to the pro bono districts will impact their caseloads in 2011.

Josh Abel Mug Abel

For instance, based on preliminary reports, in 2010, 39 percent of ILS cases were clients with family law issues. In 2009, 40.5 percent of ILS cases were clients with family law issues. Yet consumer law cases, such as bankruptcies, increased from 15 percent of ILS cases in 2009 to about 17 percent of ILS cases in 2010, based on preliminary reports.

Abel reported that 2009 was the first time NCLC attorneys handled more consumer law cases than immigration cases, and that continued in 2010.

Floreancig added that not only has ILAS seen an increase in clients with consumer law cases, but many clients who come to ILAS for family law or other legal issues will often have consumer law issues in addition to their other needs.

Going forward, all three executive directors seem to be cautiously optimistic.

“We’re doing OK, but it will take careful management,” Abel said of NCLC.

Metzger spoke similarly of ILS, adding that after a conference of other legal aid providers in Atlanta in November, he realized ILS is doing well compared to similar organizations around the country.

“Knowing we have support is very uplifting to us,” Floreancig said of ILAS. “People realize it is tough.”•

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