Key funder of legal aid seeks $1B to address pandemic-induced needs

For the first time in its history, the Washington, D.C.-based Legal Services Corp., the funding organization for Indiana Legal Services and other legal aid offices around the country, is asking Congress for a billion-dollar appropriation, an amount the organization says is needed to cover the increase in demand for civil legal assistance caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

LSC is requesting a $1.02 billion appropriation for fiscal year 2022. According to the organization, grantees are seeing an average of an 18% spike in eligible clients, most of whom needing help with evictions, income maintenance and domestic violence issues.

“Low-income Americans face surges in unemployment, eviction, foreclosures, domestic violence, health care issues, and consumer scams,” LSC President Ron Flagg said in a press release. “Legal aid providers can make a life-impacting difference by assisting people through these crises — but they need additional resources to carry out their mission.”

The request comes as Congress has been steadily raising the federal appropriation to LSC. The Biden administration has included $600 million for legal aid funding in its 2022 budget.

During the Trump administration, the White House budget contained no funding for LSC. However, the budgets passed by Congress hiked legal aid funding from $385 million in 2017 to $465 million in 2021.

Indiana Legal Services receives 60% to 70% of its budget from LSC. Of the $12 million in revenue ILS reported in 2019, LSC provided $7.85 million. In addition, the national organization funneled $1.05 million to ILS in the spring of 2020 from the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act passed that March as the U.S. economy was shutting down.

LSC’s budget requests have climbed by millions of dollars in recent years and always outpaced the federal appropriation by at least $100 million. For fiscal year 2021, the LSC asked for $652.6 million, a $59.6 million increase over its fiscal year 2020 requests of $593 million.

Also, since 2017, LSC has increased its budget ask by an average of $37 million. The organization’s request for 2022 represents a $366.2 million jump from its 2021 budget request.

Congress did appropriate an additional $50 million to LSC as part of the CARES Act. When Capitol Hill was negotiating the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, LSC had requested an extra $350 million to $500 million be targeted for legal aid but the reconciliation process used to get the bill to President Joe Biden in March 2021 did not allow for Congress to consider the proposal.

Indiana Legal Services receives 60% to 70% of its budget from LSC. Of the $12 million in revenue ILS reported in 2019, LSC provided $7.85 million. In addition, the national organization funneled another $1.05 million to ILS in the spring of 2020 from CARES Act funds.

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