Legal Aid Funding in Jeopardy

White House Budget Eliminates Legal Aid

The federal budget agreement reached by Congress and signed by the president in early May has maintained federal funding for civil legal aid at its current level of $385 million through September of 2017. However, the White House’s proposed 2018 budget would reduce federal funding for civil legal aid to zero, eliminating the Legal Services Corporation (LSC). In Oregon, just under 30% of funding for legal aid comes from the federal government. Elimination of this funding would be a disaster for vulnerable community members. However, we have reason to be hopeful. In Oregon and around the country, legal aid has a long history of strong bipartisan support.

 

Oregon lawyers do not want our legal aid programs to be eliminated. We won't stand still and wait to see what happens to funding on the national level, because justice for all is a core value for Oregon lawyers. We will act now to protect legal aid. We will continue a sustained focus on a fair and accessible legal system, where our neighbors can know their rights, and have a lawyer at their side to protect them.

 

Stop this disaster before it starts. Here are immediate, concrete actions you can take:

 

  • TAKE 5 MINUTES to say that you will stand up for your local legal aid office. Are you listed as a supporter? Get on the list of lawyers and community members who support legal aid through a financial contribution to their work. Even $5 shows you care.

 

  • TAKE 3 MINUTES to share your support for legal aid on social media. Share this page or articles about how important it is to protect the core American value of justice for all, not just for those who can afford it.

 

  • TAKE 2 MINUTES to embrace the Campaign for Equal Justice Call to Action: Learn, speak up, and act. The Call to Action lists more ways that you can join us to protect this essential service.



Recent Media Re: Proposed Budget Elimination

What would it look like to lose federal funding?

Here is the current breakdown of legal aid's 80 different funding sources. Two of those, LSC (Federal) funding, and a portion of other funding (grant money from the Violence Against Women Act, for one) would be eliminated.

In gutting civil legal aid, members of Congress would be turning their backs on their own constituents and causing unnecessary suffering. The services legal aid provides to clients are essential.

Funding for LSC amounts to a miniscule slice of the federal budget – roughly one-hundredth of one percent (.000001%). Washington would be delivering a devastating blow to Oregon and American families without any meaningful impact on the national budget.

In international terms, only 12 of 113 nations rank below the USA on the accessibility and affordability of civil justice in the World Justice Project's rule of law index. America currently ranks between Afghanistan and Zimbabwe (with Zimbabwe performing a little better). Based on the proposed budget, the US would drop to last place alongside Cambodia.


CONSEQUENCES

Oregon's legal aid system currently has an office in every region of the state, because our mission's goal is that every person who has a critical legal need should be able to have access to self help as well as access to a legal staff to answer questions, connect them with a pro bono attorney, or help them in court if necessary. Our current bare-bones budget keeps the doors of these offices open, but we still cannot meet all of the need for legal help statewide. If this proposed budget with zero federal funds becomes reality, it will have a devastating effect on families and vulnerable people across our state.

Presiding Judge Nan Waller once made an analogy that a courthouse with no legal help for those who need it is like a hospital operating room that's open to the public with no doctors or surgeons, where the patients are expected to perform medical procedures on themselves.

The Conference of Chief Justices sent a letter to the White House warning of "tragic consequences" if LSC is eliminated-–or even reduced. Our own Chief Justice Balmer is a member of this group. He has stated, "The 14th Amendment provides that 'no person shall be denied equal protection of the laws'; and the Oregon Constitution states that 'justice shall be administered openly and without purchase, completely and without delay' and that 'every person shall have a remedy by due course of law for injury to their person, property, or reputation.' When we became Oregon lawyers, we agreed to support those commitments that the state and federal constitutions make to all citizens. That was our oath."

Civil legal aid has long enjoyed broad bipartisan support for a reason: Oregonians believe in justice for all, not just for those who can afford it.