Congress votes to widen the justice gap: 2012 LSC funding cut

From the National Legal Aid & Defender Association:

 Last night House and Senate conferees agreed to a spending package that would fund the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) at $348,000,000 for FY 2012. This figure represents a reduction in overall funding for LSC of $56,190,000, or 13.9 percent.  The entire cut comes from funding for basic field programs, amounting to 14.8 percent of the critical funding used by LSC grantees to provide access to justice in the United States. The figure represents a split in half of the difference between the level the Senate appropriated for FY 2012 of $396.1 million and the House level of $300 million. 

 It appears that, despite a heavy educational campaign by supporters of legal services aimed at conservative members in the House, the pressure on House Republican conferees resulting from the earlier deep cuts in the House appropriations bill led to their insistence upon this level of cut before they would agree to a final overall spending deal funding the Commerce, Justice and Science functions of government.  Despite the expressed strong support of conferees Barbara Mikulski and Kay Bailey Hutchison in the Senate, and Chaka Fattah in the House, the intransigence of House leadership on this issue led to the unfortunate compromise resolution.

 The package is expected to pass the House and Senate this week. The Conference Report containing the agreements is not open to amendment on either the House or Senate floor. Thus, the LSC figure contained with the Report is likely to be the final spending figure for FY 2012.

What does this mean for Wisconsin?  The short answer is that Wisconsin is likely to lose over $700,000 in federal funding that would have helped thousands of vulnerable Wisconsin residents to resolve their legal issues affecting basic human needs for shelter, safety, food and employment. Life is is about to become a little bit tougher for the poor, the elderly, the disabled and others facing unlawful evictions, lending abuses, domestic violence or barriers to employment.

Wisconsin has two LSC funded legal services organizations, Legal Action of Wisconsin (serving southern counties) and Wisconsin Judicare (serving northern counties). Together, they serve almost 10,000 low-income and vulnerable clients each year. Their combined 2011 funding basic legal services is $4,781,507, which means that they will lose $707,663 in LSC funding for 2012 on top of the 3.8% cut in 2011 funding that was imposed as part of the deal to avoid a government shutdown.

As the Commission, the State Bar of Wisconsin and others have noted, earlier this year, Wisconsin completely eliminated all state funding ($2.5 million) for civil legal services to the indigent from the state budget. That funding supported an even wider range of civil legal services organizations. The Justice Gap just widened a bit more for Wisconsin families, courts, lawyers and everyone who values equal justice under law.

Update (11/15/11): The Legal Services Corporation has posted the following press release on their website.

Update 2 (11/16/11): Posts from Richard Zorza, the State Bar of Wisconsin and the Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog.

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