The American Bar Association is speaking out against key provisions in the Trump administration’s budget blueprint that would hit legal aid particularly hard.
Under the budget proposal the White House sent to the U.S. Congress Tuesday, funding for Legal Services Corp. and the public service loan forgiveness program would both be eliminated. Capitol Hill ultimately writes the budget and is not obligated to follow any of President Donald Trump’s budgetary suggestions.
The LSC uses the funding to support legal aid agencies across the country, providing representation to the indigent. Its grant recipients include Indiana Legal Services Inc., which has eight offices around the state and in 2015 received $6.65 million from the corporation. The loan forgiveness program is designed to enable lawyers to take lower-paying jobs in the public sector by giving them the opportunity to have their student loan debt erased after 10 years of service.
ABA President Linda Klein released a statement Tuesday describing the elimination of the LSC and the loan forgiveness program as “egregious cuts to the Constitution’s promise of a fair legal process….”
“Steep budget cuts proposed today by the White House would severely undermine the fairness of the legal system and deny access to justice for some of society’s most vulnerable individuals,” Klein said. “…America must not compromise on the principles that justice is accessible to all and all are equal under the law.”
Conversely, the LSC is confident Congress would continue to allocate funding as it has for the last 42 years.
“I have been very encouraged by the strong, bipartisan expression of support for LSC funding from many members of Congress over the past few months,” said LSC President James Sandman in a statement. “I am optimistic that Congress will continue to recognize that funding civil legal aid nationally is effective, efficient, and a good investment.”
For the current fiscal year, the LSC has received $385 million. It has requested $527.8 million for fiscal year 2018 which, the corporation maintained, is in response to the overwhelming need for civil legal services in the country. About 60.6 million people, or almost 20 percent of the U.S. population, are eligible for LSC-funded legal services.
The ABA praised the LSC as providing representation for low-income people in custody disputes, wrongful evictions, denial of benefits, among other matters. Klein stated, “Equal access to justice is the cornerstone of our American justice system and without the LSC, the courthouse doors all over the country would slam closed for millions of Americans.”
Klein also asserted that discontinuing the loan forgiveness program would mean “fewer people would be able to dedicate their lives to public service as prosecutors, public defenders, legal aid lawyers and other justice-related fields, especially in underserved rural areas.”
According to a report in the Washington Post, people currently in the loan forgiveness program would still be eligible for the benefit even if it is eliminated. President Donald Trump’s proposal would not stop the program but rather block any new participants starting July 1, 2018.