House boosts LSC funding without key Hoosier’s vote

The appropriations bill that included a significant boost in funding to the Legal Service Corp. passed through the U.S. House of Representatives without the vote of a key advocate of civil legal aid who said the measure contained too many “poison pills” and was impossible to support.

Rep. Susan Brooks, R-Indiana, who is a co-founder of the Access to Civil Legal Services Caucus in the House, joined the Hoosier Republican delegation in voting against the Fiscal Year 2020 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations bill. Indiana’s Democratic Representatives, Peter Visclosky and Andre Carson, voted in favor of the legislation.

The spending bill, which passed June 25 on a 227-194 vote, contained a provision allocating $550 million to LSC. This is an increase of $135 million over the corporation’s current funding and the largest appropriation proposal LSC has ever received in absolute dollars. However, the amount is still below the $593 million the LSC had asked for in its fiscal year 2020 budget request.

More than 90 percent of the federal appropriation is distributed to legal services providers across the country. Among the recipients is Indiana Legal Services, Inc. which has eight offices around the state and received $6.82 million from LSC in 2017.   

In explaining her vote, Brooks reiterated her support of legal aid but said she could not vote for a bill that she asserted could impair national security.

“I advocated for robust funding levels for the Legal Services Corporation so it can support groups like Indiana Legal Services and the clients they serve,” Brooks told Indiana Lawyer. “However, the appropriations bill that passed the House on Tuesday was filled with poison pills that made the bill incredibly partisan and impossible to support. This appropriations bill as passed by the House would increase spending and could jeopardize our country’s security — that is why I did not vote for it. It is my hope the Democrats will come to the negotiating table and work with Republicans so we can resolve these concerns in a final appropriations package while also continuing to provide funding to the Legal Services Corporation.”

The bill will now move to the U.S. Senate.

Under the Trump Administration, the LSC has seen its federal appropriation rise even as the White House has submitted budget proposals that zeroed out the nonprofit. Funding remained steady at $385 million in fiscal years 2016 and 2017 then jumped to $410 million in fiscal year 2018 and $415 million in fiscal year 2019.

Legal Services Corp. president James Sandman praised the House vote to increase the appropriation for the upcoming fiscal year.

“We are very grateful to the House for recognizing that the Legal Services Corp. promotes the most fundamental of American values — equal justice under law,” Sandman said in a press release. “The additional funding 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.”

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