Newest stimulus bill likely dead, but support for legal aid funding lives

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Legal aid received another $50 million boost in funding as part of the new economic stimulus bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday, but while the measure is expected to stall in the U.S. Senate, support to appropriate additional money for legal services appears strong on both sides of the aisle.

The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act seeks to pump an addition $3 trillion into the nation’s economy stalled by the COVID-19 pandemic. Carried mostly by the Democratic majority on a 208-199 vote, the bill would deliver almost $1 trillion for state and local governments, another round of $1,200 direct payments to individuals and help for the unemployed, renters and homeowners, college debt holders and the struggling U.S. Postal Service.

Republicans said the bill is dead on arrival in the GOP-led Senate and faces the threat of a White House veto.

Mirroring the floor vote, the Indiana congressional delegation’s support for the HEROES Act split along party lines. Republicans Jim Baird, Jim Banks, Susan Brooks, Larry Bucshon, Trey Hollingsworth, Greg Pence and Jackie Walorski opposed the bill while Democrats Andre Carson and Peter Visclosky voted in favor of it.

However, in contrast to the Republicans’ resistance to this latest economic relief package, the push for more funding for legal aid during the coronavirus crisis has been bipartisan.

LSC has estimated at least $100 million will be needed to address the anticipated spike in legal services coming as a result of the pandemic. Already, the organization received $50 million from the $2 trillion CARES Act, the stimulus package that was passed in March to stabilize households and businesses during the public health emergency.

Of the CARES money, LSC awarded more than $47 million to its grantee organizations across the country, including $1.05 million to Indiana Legal Services.

“The HEROES Act reflects congressional recognition that COVID-19 continues to increase enormously the life-altering civil legal needs faced by low-income Americans and that legal aid can be a game-changer in addressing those needs,” said LSC President Ronald Flagg said when the new stimulus bill was introduced last week. “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.”

Following the passage of the CARES Act, the House Access to Civil Services Caucus, which was co-founded by Indiana’s Brooks, sent a letter to the leaders of the House Appropriations Committee in support of more financial assistance to LSC. Likewise in the Senate, Republicans John Cornyn and Dan Sullivan along with Democrats Dick Durbin and Chris Murphy sent a similar letter to the chair and ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee also noting the need for more money to confront the anticipated “tidal wave” of requests for legal aid help because of the pandemic.

The Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators, as well, sent a joint letter to House and Senate leaders requesting additional support for legal aid funding. The organizations noted the expected increase in the need for legal assistance created by the coronavirus emergency and asserted that without legal representation, injustices can go unremedied.

“(A)s unrepresented citizens predominate debt collection and family court dockets, there are negative consequences not only for them but also for the effectiveness and efficiency of courts striving to serve these and other segments of the community who need their disputes resolved,” the letter said.

Also advocating for more LSC funding are the American Bar Association, the National Legal Aid & Defender Association and the Association of Pro Bono Counsel.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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