Stimulus package includes more money for legal aid

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Included in the $2 trillion stimulus package passed by the U.S. Senate on Wednesday is a $50 million appropriation to the Legal Services Corp., which is bracing for a spike in legal needs among those with low income as the economy buckles under the weight of the coronavirus pandemic.

The legislation is now headed to the House of Representatives, where it is expected to pass and be signed by President Trump by the end of this week.

Noting the package is designed to stabilize households and businesses affected by the COVID-19 outbreak, the LSC said the additional funding would help its 132 grantee agencies, including Indiana Legal Services, in assisting low-income clients facing job losses, evictions and other problems stemming from the pandemic.

“We are grateful that Congress has recognized that COVID-19 is going to dramatically increase the life-altering civil legal needs faced by low-income Americans and that legal aid can make a meaningful difference in addressing those needs,” said LSC president Ronald Flagg.

According to ILS director Jon Laramore, the organization is continuing to take calls four hours every weekday while the attorneys in all offices around the state are working from home.

Currently, he said, the demand for legal aid has remained consistent with past levels, but his team is expecting calls for help to increase.

Likewise, LSC is expecting a rise in need that will not be adequately covered by the new funding.

The nonprofit pointed out that an uncertain economy is likely to result in more Americans qualifying for LSC-funded legal aid. In turn, the LSC is estimating it will cost at least $100 million to address the anticipated increase in legal services needed.

Laramore noted despite Indiana’s moratorium on evictions, his attorneys are now handling cases of landlords unlawfully evicting tenants. Also, the ILS has been getting more questions about unemployment benefits, and additional inquiries will probably be coming as more people are laid off and new eligibility and benefits are rolled out.

Already the need for legal assistance to help domestic violence survivors has been growing. Laramore said his organization has been getting more referrals from partner agencies.

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