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The Role of Legal Services Corporation in Improving Access to Justice

Friday, January 25, 2019

The Role of Legal Services Corporation in Improving Access to Justice

"The Legal Services Corporation is the United States’ largest funder of civil legal aid for low-income Americans. The LSC funds legal-aid programs that serve households with annual incomes at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty guideline. Legal-aid clients face a wide variety of civil legal problems: evictions, mortgage foreclosures, domestic violence, wage theft, child custody and child support issues, and denial of essential benefits. Most clients are women. Many are seniors, veterans, or people with disabilities.

This vital work is badly underfunded, and the shortfall between the civil legal needs of low-income Americans and the resources available to address those needs is daunting. Federal funding is necessary because support for civil legal aid varies widely from state to state. Florida and Idaho, for example, provide no state funds of any kind for civil legal aid, while New York appropriated $100 million in 2018. Local, private, and foundation sources of funding are also uneven and limited. In a dozen states and territories, the LSC provides the majority of civil legal aid funding for its grantees.1 It is the backbone of legal aid funding across the United States, ensuring that there is at least some support everywhere.

Created by an act of Congress in 1974, the LSC is an independent nonprofit corporation headed by a bipartisan board of directors whose eleven members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. The LSC is a grant-making organization funded almost entirely by an annual appropriation from Congress. It distributes more than 93 percent of its appropriation to eligible nonprofits delivering direct civil legal aid services. The LSC currently funds 132 independent legal-aid organizations with more than eight hundred offices serving every county in the United States and the American territories.

The lsc uses the “justice gap” metaphor to describe the shortfall between legal needs and available legal services. Narrowing the gap is central to the organization’s mission. In June of 2017, the
lsc issued a report titled The Justice Gap: Measuring the Unmet Civil Legal Needs of Low-Income Americans. The report, prepared by the lsc and the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, found a wide justice gap for the almost 20 percent of Americans eligible
for lsc-funded assistance. In a given year, this population receives inadequate or no legal help in addressing 86 percent of the civil legal problems it faces.

The need is widespread: 71 percent of low-income households experience at least one civil legal problem a year, and about one-quarter of this population experience six or more civil legal problems a year..."

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