LSC looking to continue streak of appropriation increases

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Pointing to what it describes as an “overwhelming need for civil legal services,” Legal Services Corp. is asking a federal appropriation of $652.6 million for fiscal year 2021, a $212.6 million increase from the appropriation it received for fiscal year 2020.

The request comes as the Trump Administration has for the fourth time proposed eliminating all federal funding for the national legal aid agency. However, in announcing its budget request, LSC noted it has reason to be hopeful because Congress has not only continued funding but also increased the amount annually since Donald Trump took office.

In fiscal years 2017-2019, LSC’s appropriation rose from $385 million to $415 million. Although Congress did not meet LSC’s funding request of $593 million for fiscal year 2020, Capitol Hill still boosted the funding level by $25 million to reach a record of $440 million.

The administration’s $4.8 trillion budget proposal released Monday calls for LSC to be defunded and includes an appropriation of $18.2 million to cover the costs of closing the legal aid agency.

“LSC has enjoyed strong bipartisan support for 45 years,” said LSC president Jim Sandman. “We are grateful to Congress for supporting LSC’s mission for promoting equal justice under law and for having recently increased our appropriation to $440 million, the highest amount in LSC’s history.”

Still, as a part of LSC’s 2021 budget request,  the agency noted the demand for legal services continues to outpace available resources. In 2019, the agency found 42% of the legal problems presented by financially eligible individuals received no service of any kind.

“Millions of Americans qualify for LSC-funded services, but the majority of them are not able to receive the legal assistance they need because LSC’s appropriation has been inadequate to meet their needs,” the budget request stated. “The request (for $652.6 million) would allow LSC grantees to make substantial progress serving those persons who seek legal aid but currently receive insufficient services or no service at all.”

The bulk of LSC’s appropriation is funneled as grants to legal aid agencies across the country. Indiana Legal Services, which has nine offices around Indiana, is the sole recipient of LSC funding in the Hoosier state.

According to LSC’s 2021 budget request, Indiana Legal Services received a basic field grant of $7.7 million for fiscal year 2020 and has asked for an appropriation of $11.6 million for the upcoming fiscal year.

LSC highlighted in its 2018 By the Numbers report that a growing portion of the funding for grantees increasingly comes from non-LSC sources. Outside sources such as state and local funding, private grants, IOLTA grants and filing fees brought in $794.7 million in 2018.

Overall in 2018, LSC funding accounted for 34% of all funding received by grantees. Indiana Legal Services, conversely, received 73.9% of its funding from LSC and 26.1% form non-LSC sources.

Along with the climbing appropriations, LSC grantees recorded a rise in the number of cases closed in 2018, the first increase since 2010. A total of 743,646 cases were closed across the United States in 2018 according to the By the Numbers data. This is an improvement from the 727,219 cases closed in 2017 but still below the 920,477 cases closed in 2009.

Family and housing cases were the bulk of those closed by LSC grantees in 2018. Family matters comprised 231,681 of the cases closes, or 31.2%, while housing issues constituted 214,812, or 28.9% of the closed cases.

Indiana Legal Services posted a decline in the number of cases closed. From 2017 to 2018, the Hoosier legal aid provider closed 709, or 6.5% fewer cases.

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