The Legal Services Corporation, which supports legal aid agencies across the country including Indiana Legal Services, is asking the federal government for hundreds of millions in supplemental funding, saying low-income Americans are being hit especially hard by the economic devastation from the pandemic.
As part of the debate on Capitol Hill over another COVID-19 relief package, LSC has requested $350 million to $500 million in additional dollars. The organization said the extra support is needed to help address the short- and long-term legal issues facing low-income households.
“COVID-19 continues to increase enormously the life-altering civil legal needs faced by low-income Americans and legal aid can be a game-changer in addressing those needs,” said LSC President Ronald Flagg. “The dramatic spike in legal needs caused by COVID-19 coupled with precipitous declines in state and local funding underscore the continuing need for emergency federal funding for legal aid.”
Congress appropriated $50 million to LSC in the $2 trillion CARES Act that was passed in March 2020. The House-backed HEROES Act would have provided $100 million for LSC, but the final $900 billion relief package passed by both chambers in December did not include any civil legal aid funding.
LSC did receive $465 million as part of the $2.3 trillion spending bill that former President Donald Trump signed in late December. Although this was the largest appropriation in actual dollars the organization had received in its history, it fell short of the $652 million LSC had requested.
The new leaders of the of the Congressional Legal Aid Caucus – Pennsylvania Reps. Mary Gay Scanlon, a Democrat, and Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican – sent a letter supporting LSC’s request for supplemental funding to the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies in January.
Pointing out that millions of Americans have slipped into poverty during the pandemic, the representatives said civil legal needs have surged while state, local and private financial resources previously available to legal aid providers have shrunk.
“The effects of the pandemic continue to ravage the U.S. economy and have already caused tens of millions of American workers to be unemployed and unable to pay for housing and other expenses,” Scanlon and Fitzpatrick wrote in their letter. “The U.S. has not seen unemployment numbers such as these since the Great Depression.”
Vice Chair of the Legal Aid Caucus Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minnesota, recently confirmed his support and the support of his congressional colleagues during an LSC virtual meeting Feb. 4.
“As you have fought for those most affected by this pandemic, your government should assist your efforts,” Emmer told the LSC. “Legal aid funding should be important piece of our recovery plan. As millions of Americans face housing insecurity due to job loss and pandemic-related financial instability, you have become more essential than ever.”