Senate proposes higher appropriation to Legal Services Corp. amid pandemic

A U.S. Senate subcommittee has proposed a $6 million increase in funding for the Legal Services Corporation, potentially providing additional support as more legal aid offices are bracing for higher demand caused by the worsening COVID-19 crisis.

Tuesday, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies released its fiscal year 2021 bill that included a $446 million appropriation to LSC. This is an increase of $6 million from the LSC’s current funding of $440 million.

“We are grateful that the Senate Subcommittee is providing additional support for legal aid to meet the numerous critical civil legal issues faced by low-income Americans,” LSC President Ronald Flagg said in a news release. “Whether the issue relates to job losses, health care, evictions or domestic violence, having access to a lawyer can make a life-impacting difference.”

Although the proposal moving through the Senate would allocate more money to LSC, the upper chamber’s appropriation is $19 million less than that approved by the U.S. House of Representatives. In July, the U.S. House passed its fiscal year 2021 appropriations bill, which included $465 million for LSC.

The LSC had requested $652.6 million for fiscal year 2021.

“We are hopeful that the final bill emerging from conference will provide a significant increase in funding to enable our grantees to help as many eligible people as possible,” Flagg said.

LSC distributes a majority of its federal funding through grants to 132 independent legal aid organizations serving every county in every state and the territories. Indiana Legal Services is among the agencies receiving LSC funding.

The Senate’s proposed bump in support is coming just in time.

A July 2020 survey of LSC grantees found 97% of the respondents were anticipating more people in their communities needing legal help because of the pandemic. Evictions, foreclosures and problems securing unemployment benefits were listed as the top problems fueling the growth in demand for legal services.

Also, 94% of the LSC grantees said they were seeing clients who lost their jobs because of the coronavirus outbreak and are now newly eligible for legal services. On average, the legal aid providers are seeing a 17.9% increase in the number of eligible clients due to the pandemic.

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