Increase in LSC funding likely to boost Indiana Legal Services

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With the just-passed federal spending bill putting an extra $25 million into the Legal Services Corporation’s coffers, Indiana Legal Services is anticipating a raise in funding to help with its work in providing civil legal assistance to indigent individuals and families across the Hoosier state.

President Donald Trump signed the $1.3 trillion spending package Friday that will keep the federal government funded through September. Included in the bill was a $410 million allocation for LSC for fiscal year 2018 which is a raise from the $385 million appropriated each fiscal year in 2017 and 2016 and the highest appropriation since 2010.

In a press release following the signing of the spending bill, LSC said $376 million of the total allocation will be distributed to 133 independent legal aid organizations serving every county in every state and the territories.

Indiana Legal Services is a recipient of LSC funds and, in 2016, depended on the federal dollars for more than two-thirds of its annual $9.71 million budget.

“We’re pleased about the increased federal funding for LSC, and we will use the additional money to serve the vital legal needs of even more low-income Hoosiers in the upcoming months,” said ILS executive director Jon Laramore. “We expect the budget increase will translate into more than $400,000 in additional annual funding for Indiana Legal Services, and our board will determine how best to use those funds over the upcoming months.”

Although LSC remained confident it would ultimately be included in the federal budget, how much funding it would receive was unclear. Initially, the White House proposed eliminating the agency’s appropriation altogether, but Congress appears to have ignored that suggestion.

The U.S. House of Representatives proposed allocating $300 million to LSC while the U.S. Senate offered to keep the funding at $385 million. However, the final draft that passed the House, 256-to-167, and the Senate, 65-to-32, included $410 million for LSC.

“Investments in legal aid are investments in the safety and health of working families, survivors of domestic violence, veterans, patients, and Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs,” said Rep. Joseph Kennedy III, D-Massachusetts. “Despite President Trump’s shortsighted budget, this program is above partisan politics because of its direct impact on our constituents in ever single state and Congressional district.”

Kennedy and Rep. Susan Brooks, R-Indiana, serve as co-chairs of the Congressional Access to Civil Legal Services Caucus along with Reps. Fred Upton, R-Michigan, and Debbie Dingell, D-Michigan. 

Brooks, a former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana, has been an advocate for civil legal aid. After the White House released its proposed budget for fiscal year 2019 which again called for defunding LSC, the Indiana Congresswoman said in February she would work to protect access to legal services.

“The Legal Services Corporation does important work to help millions of low-income Americans when they are facing legal action…, whether it’s eviction, custodial issues, wills and estate planning, disability, employment and everything in between,” Brooks said. “…As we plan for next year’s appropriations process, we must remain focused on providing for the security of our citizens and their families, and I am disappointed the President did not include funding for this operation that can be life-changing for Americans across the country.”

LSC is the nation’s single largest funder of civil legal aid for low-income Americans. The extra funds, said LSC president James Sandman, would directly aid individuals such as victims of domestic violence seeking protection orders, veterans trying to access the benefits they earned and tenants trying to avoid unlawful evictions.

“We are grateful to Congress for recognizing that the Legal Services Corporation promotes the most fundamental of American values — equal justice under law,” Sandman said in a press release.

LSC board chair John Levi echoed Sandman’s sentiments and thanked Capitol Hill for supporting civil legal aid. 

“Congress’ action reflects broad bipartisan support for LSC’s mission of helping to ensure equal access to justice,” Levi said. “No American should be disadvantaged by the inability to navigate the country’s legal system. I want to thank the congress for this vote of confidence for the important work LSC has been doing for the past 44 years.”

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