What would the elimination of LSC funding mean for legal aid in the East Bay?
There’s so much to talk about in the President’s proposed budget, released recently. But for lawyers, perhaps nothing is more important than a small item towards the end of the list. This item represents less than .0001% of the federal budget, so it won’t save the country much money. But what it proposes to do is entirely eliminate federal funding for Legal Aid. Not just cut it back or restrict its use, but eliminate it altogether.
What impact would this have? I believe that it would cut the legal services available to low-income people by more than 50%. This would, as you might expect, lead to precipitous rise in the things that Legal Aid prevents: homelessness, domestic violence, violence against children, a spiral from a low-income life to desperation.
Will it result in a loss of revenue to our Volunteer Legal Services Corporation (VLSC)? Not directly, no. In the Reagan years, the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) responsible for directing Congressional funding for Legal Aid mandated that it would only fund one organization in each geographic area. In the Bay Area, that entity is Bay Area Legal Aid, which has offices in Alameda, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Contra Costa, Marin, and Napa. But this also means that Bay Legal, as it is affectionately known, does the lion’s share of public interest legal work in our community. Each year, Bay Legal helps more than 60,000 clients with legal problems ranging from housing and domestic violence to issues facing foster youth and public benefits.
If they lose the more than $6 million that they receive each year from LSC, Bay Legal will continue – it does have funding from other sources. But the work it does will be drastically reduced. And other providers, like VLSC, cannot possibly absorb the newly unmet need. We are swamped already. And frankly, I expect that many individual donations and foundation grants will be shifted to these now decimated organizations – so VLSC will see a downturn in revenue, as well.
Some have said that eliminating LSC funding is part and parcel of the President’s approach to undocumented immigrants. This is ironic – those Reagan era changes also prohibit LSC-funded organizations from providing assistance to undocumented immigrants, except in the narrow situation where they are victims of violence.
Take Action – Contact Your Representatives
Of course, much can be said about many of the proposals in the budget. And I encourage you to say them. But please, if you do ONE thing today, call or send a postcard to our Senators and Representatives about LSC funding. What we understand is that even when they already agree with you, letting them know that you feel strongly makes a difference in deciding when to take a stand.
Find contact information for your local representatives by clicking here.
Download and print the postcard we created to send to your representatives Protect Legal Services Postcard.
Tiela Chalmers is the CEO and General Counsel of the Alameda County Bar Association the Volunteer Legal Services Corporation. Tiela has been a consultant in the fields of legal services and pro bono. Prior to that she was the Executive Director of Volunteer Legal Services Program (now JDC) in San Francisco. Tiela started her career as an attorney at Farella, Braun + Martel in San Francisco.