The White House released the Trump administration’s budget proposal last Thursday, which outlined cuts to legal services. As it stands, the cuts would leave millions of Americans with no affordable access to legal services.
LSC, or Legal Services Corporation, awards grants to nonprofits that provide legal aid to Americans in need. From low-income workers to homeless veterans and victims of domestic violence, these nonprofits help individuals obtain the legal services they couldn’t afford otherwise. Cases are often centered on pressing issues, like consumer protections, domestic violence, HIV, foreclosures, predatory lending and immigration.
LSC, established in the 1960s, receives $375 million in federal funding each year to help clients across the U.S. Republicans have in the past attempted to defund LSC, arguing that the program is too expensive (even though it accounts for one-ten-thousandth of the budget), and that the services aren’t necessary.
But this time, funding is in serious jeopardy. The White House released its new budget blueprint last week, which includes a $52 billion increase in defense spending and a $2.8 billion increase in homeland security spending. The proposed budget also eliminates LSC completely and 18 other independent agencies, which include the chemical safety board, the US interagency council on homelessness, the Appalachian regional commission, the Denali commission and the overseas private investment corporation.
Proposed cuts to funding is one thing. Complete elimination of the LSC would have a devastating effects for low- to moderate-income Americans. Seniors and those living in rural areas would be at the greatest risk of losing protections.
LSC currently provides assistance to nearly two million Americans each year, but an estimated 63 million are eligible for legal assistance. Still, many Americans are unaware of how significant this cut would be.
Don Saunders of the National Legal Aid and Defender Association described the impact of these monumental cuts.
“You will see veterans and victims of domestic violence, victims of natural disasters, seniors – a growing population with tremendous legal needs. You will see greatly reduced resources available to meet critical legal needs across the United States,” said Saunders.
Saunders said the U.S. has offered legal aid programs in urban areas for more than a century, but federal funding allowed that assistance to expand out into rural areas. Once funding is cut, these individuals will no longer have access to the legal assistance they need.
Proponents of legal services funding argue that equality before the law is not achievable when low- to moderate-income Americans cannot afford the services of a lawyer. The issue becomes particularly concerning when dealing with complex areas of the law, like housing and domestic violence.
LSC provides the majority of funding for programs that offer legal assistance to women who are victims of domestic abuse.
There’s still hope for LSC. The agency still has supporters in Washington, including lead Republicans. As many others have said, an attack on legal aid is an attack on one of America’s core values: equal justice for all.
If Congress values its constituents, it will stand up to this proposed cut to defend protections for Americans who truly need legal aid.