Lawmakers support additional funding for legal aid as ILS receives $1M

Indiana Legal Services will be receiving a booster shot of just over $1 million as part of the additional $50 million in funding Congress allotted to legal aid providers across the country during the COVID-19 emergency. Meanwhile, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers are pushing for another appropriation.

The $50 million was funneled to the Legal Services Corp., which then distributed the funds to all of its 132 grantees. LSC calculated the amount each agency received by looking at the poverty population and unemployment claims in each state.

ILS, which services the entire state of Indiana, was awarded a total of $1.05 million. The basic field grant of $996,045 was supplemented with $31,752 for its program assisting agricultural workers and victims of human trafficking. In addition, the organization also got more than $18,000 in reimbursement for expenses the organization incurred in transitioning its staff to working remotely as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

Jon Laramore, ILS executive director, said the organization is still discussing how to deploy the bulk of the extra funding.

Neighboring states were all awarded higher amounts of funding. Michigan led with $2.68 million, followed by Ohio with $2.06 million. Illinois received $1.38 million and Kentucky got $1.24 million.

Attorneys for ILS are all working from home and the organization is operating its statewide intake system remotely. Overall, the intake number declined more than 20% in March compared to March 2019, but, as Laramore pointed out, the decrease is not surprising since the courts are not hearing most types of matters and a moratorium has been placed on evictions and foreclosures.

The appropriation to the Legal Service Corp. was part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, which threw a $2 trillion life preserver to the U.S. economy that has stalled because of the pandemic. LSC initially asked for $100 million in additional funding and was granted $50 million. Recently, the agency has requested a second emergency appropriation of $50 million.

“The dramatic spike in legal needs caused by COVID-19 coupled with precipitous declines in state and local funding underscore the need for additional emergency federal funding for legal aid,” LSC president Ronald Flagg said in a statement.

At a recent virtual briefing hosted by the Legal Services Corp., legislators on Capitol Hill noted state coffers are going to be under stress, and low-income households are going to struggle even more because of the coronavirus-induced economic hardships.

Rep. Fred Upton, co-chair of the bipartisan Access to Civil Legal Services Caucus, said in order to ensure access to justice for everyone, the federal government will have to step up. The Michigan Republican sketched out a timeline for additional relief, with Congress hopefully being able to hold hearings to understand the impact of the pandemic.

“We’ve got to stand up tall for the people that we represent and the folks that otherwise would not have a door to the legal process which as we know is so complex,” Upton said.

Co-founder of the Civil Legal Services Caucus, Rep. Joe Kennedy III, said additional funding is going to be needed since the fallout from COVID-19 will place an even greater stress on the legal aid system.

“… We will be doing everything we can, not just to advocate for maintaining critical LSC funding, but to expand it. To double it, to triple it, to make sure that in this time of crisis those that … are falling to our legal system for that last utterance of fairness and justice that they will be about to get access, too,” Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, said.

Also, Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, called the $50 million “a good start” and said the pandemic has highlighted the need for the help and assistance provided by the Legal Services Corp.

“Democrats and Republicans are going to continue to focus on the important work that you all do and fund it,” Sullivan said.

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