U.S. House committee approves $135 million boost to legal aid funding

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The Legal Services Corporation got a fast start in the federal budget process Wednesday after the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee approved a large financial boost of $550 million to the civil legal aid organization.

This is only the first of several steps that will follow in the work of crafting the federal spending plan for fiscal year 2020. The full House must vote on the bill and the Senate still has to formulate its proposal, then the two chambers will have to confer and agree on a joint budget before sending the bill to the White House.

Still, LSC celebrated the committee’s approval. The $550 million represents a $135 million increase over the corporation’s current funding and is the largest appropriation proposal LSC has ever received in absolute dollars.

“We are very grateful to the House Appropriations Committee for recognizing that the Legal Services Corporation promotes the most fundamental of American values — equal justice under the law,” said LSC president James Sandman.

Funding from LSC supports Indiana Legal Services, Inc. According to the Hoosier organization’s financials, money from LSC totaled $6.82 million in 2017, which constituted 66.2 percent of the revenue received that year.

“The additional funding the committee has recommended would allow more victims of domestic violence to obtain protection orders, more veterans to access the benefits they have earned and more tenants to avoid unlawful evictions,” Sandman said.

Civil legal aid has long enjoyed bipartisan funding, but in recent years the appropriation to LSC has been increasing even as the Trump Administration has pushed to zero out the line item in the federal budget.    For fiscal year 2018, Congress approved a $410 million appropriation to LSC, a $25 million bump from the previous fiscal year. The appropriation was then upped to $415 million for fiscal year 2019.

The appropriations bill also included funding for the U.S. Departments of Commerce and Justice, the national Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Science Foundation. Calling for the allocation of $73.9 billion, the bill passed the committee on a vote of 30-22.

A vote by the full House has not been scheduled.

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