The Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission has a longstanding commitment to increasing funding for civil legal aid from all sources, public and private. Civil legal aid has a history of bipartisan support in Wisconsin. So, we are pleased to see Governor Evers building on the good work of his predecessors and the Legislature in his proposed appropriations for civil legal aid in the 2021-2023 budget. This proposed funding increase will bring us closer to meeting Wisconsin’s level of unmet civil legal needs. It also brings us more in line with the funding levels of comparable midwestern states while boosting our economy, helping our court system operate more efficiently, and ensuring that, in Wisconsin, justice does not depend on how much money you make.
The Wisconsin Legislature appropriated $1 million in the most recent biennial budget. Gov. Evers is proposing $5 million in new funding on top of that for 2021-23. Our total state funding for civil legal aid would then be $6 million for the 2021-23 biennium. The $5 million in new funding would come from an additional $1 million allocation of federal TANF funds that Wisconsin already receives to help indigent families, plus $4 million from general tax revenues for civil legal services to the indigent.
The funding would continue to be administered through the Wisconsin Trust Account Foundation (WisTAF), which was created by the Wisconsin Supreme Court to help fund civil legal aid programs statewide. WisTAF has a range of grant programs that help to ensure statewide access to civil legal aid for thousands of low income Wisconsin residents every year. WisTAF’s grantees use staff and volunteers to help prevent homelessness, remove barriers to employment, stabilize families, assist crime victims, improve access to health care, and increase the efficiency of our courts.
How you can help
The ball is in the Legislature’s court now and they need to hear from you. You don’t have to be a lawyer or a judge to speak up (although they certainly should). Legislators need to hear from all of their constituents: homemakers, doctors, farmers, cooks, and EVERYONE. Our friends at the State Bar of Wisconsin have created an easy to use outreach tool that you can use to thank the Governor and contact your legislators on this issue. Just go here to add your voice. The system will walk you through creating your own message to your legislators.
Together, we can make a difference.