Legal aid funding cut from Trump budget

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The Trump Administration’s proposed budget would eliminate funding to the Legal Services Corp., which provides grants to 134 legal aid organizations around the country including Indiana Legal Services Inc.

According to the Washington Post and USA Today, the LSC is among 19 agencies that were cut completely from the White House spending proposal. The LSC, established by Congress in 1974, received $375 million federal appropriation in fiscal year 2015 and $385 million in fiscal year 2016. For fiscal year 2017, the agency had requested $502.7 million.

Rep. Susan Brooks, the Indianapolis Republican who co-founded the Access to Legal Services Caucus in Congress in 2015, is advocating for LSC funding to be retained. Noting Congress will ultimately write the budget, she described access to justice as a national priority.

“The president released his budget today, and now, it is Congress’s responsibility to draft and pass a budget that is focused on our priorities as a nation to provide for the security of our citizens and their families,” Brooks said. “Part of that security must be to protect the rights of citizens to due process and access to legal counsel. As co-chair of the Access to Legal Services Caucus, I will work to protect Americans access to legal services, regardless of income.”

Indiana Legal Services, which has eight offices around the state, receives the bulk of its funding from the LSC. In 2016, ILS reported total revenue of $9.89 million of which $6.63 million came from the Legal Services Corp. Across the state, ILS helped 10,340 clients.

“I don’t believe that we will lose all federal funding,” ILS Executive Director Jon Laramore said. “If we did, ILS would look very different and, in particular, we would be hard pressed to provide services to rural areas.”

Linda Klein, president of the American Bar Association, released a statement rebuking the administration’s action. She said her organization was “outraged” by the proposed cut to legal services and called upon every member of Congress to restore full funding.

“LSC provides civil legal aid to people who desperately need help to navigate the legal process,” Klein said. “Without this assistance, the court house doors will slam in the faces of millions of Americans, denying them equal access to justice.”

However, the Legal Services Corp. is confident of the bipartisan support in Congress. It pointed out Capitol Hill has funded the agency for 42 years and in each of the last three fiscal year has increased funding by $10 million annually.

“I look forward to working with Congress to continue LSC’s work,” said LSC President James Sandman. “I am optimistic that the bipartisan support we have enjoyed in Congress for more than four decades will continue for years to come.”

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