Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation Announces Retirement of Executive Director Lonnie Powers

Media Contact:
Catherine Rizos
617-391-5627
crizos@mlac.org

BOSTON (October 27, 2017) – The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) announces that its executive director, Lonnie A. Powers, who has led the organization since its founding, will retire in August 2018.

MLAC, created by the state legislature in 1983, is the largest funding source for civil legal aid in Massachusetts. Under Powers’ leadership, access to civil legal representation and advice has expanded greatly for low-income individuals and families. Over that time, MLAC has also formed close partnerships with the private bar, the judiciary, the legislature, the attorney general’s office, regional civil legal aid programs and other stakeholders to maximize available resources for low-income individuals and families facing potentially life-changing civil legal issues related to housing, employment, education, domestic violence, and access to public benefits.

“Lonnie has been instrumental in MLAC’s development as a leading voice for civil legal aid in Massachusetts. We offer him our sincere appreciation for what will be his 35 years of service and advocacy on behalf of those who might otherwise not have had access to justice,” said Marijane Benner Browne, Chair of the MLAC Board of Directors. “We are committed to finding a new leader for MLAC who can continue that proud tradition and strengthen the civil legal aid system in Massachusetts, and we are grateful to Lonnie for the time he has given us to plan for this transition.”

“I am honored to have served as MLAC’s founding executive director,” said Powers. “I am incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to work with the board and staff of MLAC and our many partners and supporters in the private bar, the judiciary, the legislature, and our programs to increase access to civil legal aid in the Commonwealth. Together, we have established a vibrant network of legal aid providers that works ceaselessly to serve our state’s most vulnerable residents.”

Before joining MLAC, Powers worked in the Office of the Attorney General in his native Arkansas, and served as executive director of Legal Services of Arkansas.

The MLAC Board of Directors has appointed a transition committee that will conduct a national search for Powers’ successor.

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About MLAC

The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation was established by the state legislature in 1983 to ensure that low-income people with critical, non-criminal legal problems would have access to legal information, advice and representation.

Free Civil Legal Services Available for Massachusetts Crime Victims

BOSTON (October 11, 2017)—The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) announces today that it has received a two-year, $8 million grant from the Office for Victim Assistance (MOVA) to increase access to civil legal services for victims of violent and economic crimes in Massachusetts.

Victims of crime are often left with significant legal needs beyond those addressed in the criminal justice system. Child custody, immigration, healthcare or access to stable housing are just some examples of the civil legal needs faced by many victims following a crime.

This funding will increase access to these services for the most vulnerable victims of child abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault, and elder abuse—as well as to victims of non-violent crimes like fraud, financial abuse, or theft. Services are free and accessible to children, elders, non-English speakers, and people with disabilities. Referrals are also made to other social service providers to meet each client’s individual and long-term safety needs.

“Victims of violent and non-violent crimes are often incredibly vulnerable and may face challenges that are not addressed as part of the criminal prosecution process,” Attorney General Maura Healey said. “This grant ensures that more victims will have access to the critical legal services they need and can seek the justice they deserve.”

“After being violently attacked by my husband in our home I found myself involved in multiple court situations beyond the criminal justice system,” said Danielle Sicard, MOVA Board member. “Four years past this life changing ordeal, I continue to find myself in need of legal assistance and services in both district and probate courts to battle my ex-husband’s continued attempts at abuse. As a survivor of domestic violence it thrills me to see the launch of this program and I know these services will be instrumental for victims as they navigate through a complex court system during some of the most stressful situations.”

Created in 1983, MLAC is the largest funding source for civil legal aid in Massachusetts, supporting 14 civil legal aid programs that provide legal information, advice, and representation to low-income individuals and families facing civil legal issues. Working in partnership with the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI), MLAC will disburse funds to regional and statewide civil legal aid programs to increase capacity to serve individual clients at the local level. The MOVA grant will also be used to increase the network’s capacity to coordinate services on a statewide basis.

“Successful criminal prosecution may bring justice to victims, but often additional civil legal assistance is required,” said Lonnie Powers, Executive Director of MLAC. “Victims of domestic violence, for instance, frequently need access to protective orders, assistance with child custody and support, divorce, and property distribution. Unfortunately, due to lack of funding, civil legal aid programs are forced to turn away thousands of eligible residents who seek services. This grant will help us begin to address funding shortages and serve more clients in need, and it is an important step forward in our effort to ensure equal justice for all people in Massachusetts.”

Georgia Katsoulomitis, Executive Director of MLRI, echoed that sentiment, saying, “We are proud to partner with the MOVA, MLAC, our fellow legal services programs, and advocates for domestic violence survivors and other victims of crime to launch this initiative. Through this grant, we will collaboratively create a coordinated system that will assist victims of crime across the state.” Katsoulomitis also highlighted the unique training that will be the foundation for services provided through the grant. “We will provide robust training to legal advocates on trauma-informed service delivery that is designed to address trauma while providing high quality civil legal assistance. This holistic approach recognizes that victims are not statistics or case numbers—they are people who have been often severely impacted in many aspects of their lives by the crimes perpetrated again them.”

In 2014, the Boston Bar Association’ released a report “Investing in Justice: A Roadmap to Cost-Effective Funding of Civil Legal Aid in Massachusetts” which highlighted the importance of investing in civil legal aid services in the state. One of the report’s key findings demonstrated the economic benefits of legal aid: for every $1 invested by the state in in civil legal services, $2 to $5 is returned to the state and its residents.

“The BBA’s study demonstrated that providing civil legal aid to the vulnerable is not only the right thing to do but also provides the Commonwealth with a return on investment,” said BBA President Mark D. Smith, of Laredo & Smith. “This generous grant from MOVA will help expand access to justice for victims at a critical moment in their lives.”

“As a longtime supporter of MLAC and its efforts to increase access to legal aid, the Massachusetts Bar Association is thrilled that this valuable infusion of funding will directly help some of the most vulnerable members of our commonwealth,” said MBA Chief Legal Counsel Martin W. Healy. “This grant makes it possible for more crime victims to access important legal services and resources beyond the criminal justice system, without which they risk being further victimized.”

“Impacts of crime affect every aspect of a victim’s life which can require civil legal remedies to achieve long-term safety and stability,” said Liam Lowney, MOVA’s Executive Director. “This funding bolsters MLAC’s existing network of regional legal aid organizations to provide services to victims in or around their hometown. In addition to civil legal services, victims can also receive referrals to other area providers who can assist with other rehabilitation and recovery needs. We are thrilled to partner with MLAC and MLRI to provide these critical services to better serve crime victims throughout Massachusetts.”

Information on civil legal assistance funded by this grant and provided by MLAC, MLRI, and other programs around the state can be accessed at www.massclavc.org.

Funding for this program comes from the Victim of Crime Act (VOCA) Crime Victims Fund administered by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime. MOVA grants VOCA funding to government and community-based victim services throughout Massachusetts. To learn more please visit www.mass.gov/mova or call (617) 586-1340.

MLAC Thanks Governor for Preserving Civil Legal Aid Funds in FY18 Budget

BOSTON, July 18, 2017 – The FY18 Budget of the Commonwealth, signed yesterday by Governor Baker, includes level funding for civil legal aid at $18 million. Lonnie Powers, executive director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, offered the following statement in response:

“We appreciate Governor Baker’s recognition that civil legal aid is a vital resource for our state’s low-income individuals and families. The 14 programs across the state funded by the civil legal aid line item support our state’s most vulnerable residents as they face serious civil legal issues related to domestic violence, health care, elder abuse, housing, employment, and the rights of disabled children and adults.

“We remain committed to working for equal justice for all in the Commonwealth, and will continue our efforts to protect and increase needed funding for civil legal aid. In addition to the governor and his staff, we offer thanks to the many individuals and groups that work with us including our legislative champions, the Massachusetts Bar Association, the Boston Bar Association, county and specialty bar associations, our social services endorsers, and the many people across the state who spoke in support of civil legal aid funding.”

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About MLAC

The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation was established by the state legislature in 1983 to ensure that low-income people with critical, non-criminal legal problems would have access to legal information, advice and representation. MLAC is the largest funding source for civil legal aid programs in Massachusetts.

MLAC Urges Governor Baker to Protect Funding for Civil Legal Aid

BOSTON, July 7, 2017 – Today, the legislature’s conference committee released its compromise budget for Fiscal Year 2018, including level funding for civil legal aid through the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC), at $18 million. This amount falls far short of the increase requested by MLAC and eliminates the increases in funding approved in the House and Senate Budgets, which both included a $2 million funding increase for civil legal aid.

MLAC disburses the state’s civil legal aid funding to 14 civil legal aid programs across Massachusetts that assist low-income individuals and families in resolving issues related to basic necessities such as housing, employment, classroom accommodations for children with disabilities, and conflicts related to child support and custody, divorce, and domestic violence. Eligible residents are those with incomes below 125 percent of the federal poverty level, or an annual income of $30,750 for a family of four. Civil legal aid programs currently turn away an estimated 57,000 eligible people annually due to lack of funding. MLAC will continue to ask the legislature to increase the state appropriation for legal aid, as it is a sound economic investment and a lifeline for those who need civil legal services.

“We are clearly disappointed by the conference committee budget, and we will continue our efforts to protect funding for civil legal aid, which provides vital legal advice and representation to low-income individuals and families across the Commonwealth,” said Lonnie Powers, MLAC Executive Director. “We remain committed to meeting the needs of low-income residents who need access to civil legal services, and we urge Governor Baker to approve $18 million in funding for civil legal aid when he signs the FY18 Budget.”

About MLAC

The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation was established by the state legislature in 1983 to ensure that low-income people with critical, non-criminal legal problems would have access to legal information, advice and representation. MLAC is the largest funding source for civil legal aid programs in Massachusetts.

MLAC Praises Senate for Including Additional Funding for Civil Legal Aid in FY18 Budget

MLAC Praises Senate for Including Additional Funding for Civil Legal Aid in FY18 Budget

BOSTON, May 25, 2017 – The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) expresses its gratitude to the State Senate for approving $20 million in funding for civil legal aid in its FY18 Budget passed today. This additional funding was possible thanks to bi-partisan support for amendment #896, co-sponsored by 21 senators, which added an additional $2 million to the initial Senate Ways & Means budget proposal. The Senate appropriation, an increase of $2 million over FY17, represents an important step forward in the Commonwealth’s efforts to increase access to legal representation for low-income individuals and families facing potentially life-altering civil legal issues related to housing, health care, employment, and domestic violence, among others.

“We know our Senators had difficult decisions to make in the budget process, and we applaud them for recognizing the importance of civil legal aid in protecting the safety and stability of low-income residents of the Commonwealth,” said Lonnie Powers, executive director of MLAC. “We would like to extend special thanks to Senate President Rosenberg, Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair Karen Spilka, and Vice Chair Sal DiDomenico for their leadership on this issue, and to amendment co-sponsors Senator Cynthia Creem and Senator William Brownsberger for their longstanding efforts to improve access to justice for our state’s most vulnerable residents.”

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ABOUT MLAC

The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation was established by the state legislature in 1983 to ensure that low-income people with critical, non-criminal legal problems would have access to legal information, advice and representation. MLAC is the largest funding source for civil legal aid programs in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corp. Will Request Additional Funding From Senate

BOSTON, May 16, 2017―Today, the Senate Ways & Means Committee recommended funding civil legal aid in the Commonwealth at the same level as last year—$18 million. Given the depth of unmet need for civil legal aid services among people living in poverty, the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) will continue to advocate for an additional $2 million in funding by the Senate.

“Right now, civil legal aid programs around the state turn away approximately 57,000 people eligible for legal aid each year. Access to justice should not depend on your income. The potential loss of federal funds for civil legal aid and other social safety net programs suggests this disparity will only increase. Given the significant economic returns for the state generated by civil legal aid, this is an investment that the state should be making,” said Lonnie Powers, executive director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC). “Public monies should be spent on programs that are effective and efficient, and civil legal aid is both.”

Senator Cynthia Creem and Senator William Brownsberger will file an amendment to increase the Senate Ways & Means recommendation by $2 million, for a total appropriation of $20 million, as the Senate budget is debated. This funding increase would be another important step in addressing the significant unmet need among those who are eligible for, and seek, civil legal aid. Eligible residents are those with incomes at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty level, or $30,750 annually for a family of four.

“Our programs around the state ensure that people living in poverty get the legal help they need when faced with life-changing legal issues related to housing, employment, access to health care, education and others.” Powers added. “Unfortunately, without this increase in funding, legal aid programs will be forced to continue to turn away many people eligible for assistance with civil legal issues that threaten their safety and stability.”

Earlier this year, MLAC released its annual Economic Benefits Report, which showed that civil legal assistance provided by MLAC-funded programs in fiscal year 2016 yielded at least $49.3 million in savings or new revenue for the state and its residents. Successful representation in appeals to Social Security Insurance, Social Security Disability Insurance, Unemployment Insurance, Medicare coverage, and federal tax decisions resulted in $15.8 million in new federal revenue for the Commonwealth. An additional $21.2 million was gained through child support orders, debt relief for homeowners in foreclosure cases, and additional non-federal Unemployment Insurance claims and representation for tenants. The state saved $12.1 million in services that it would have otherwise provided if not for civil legal aid. These services include emergency shelter, foster care, and medical costs related to domestic violence.

“Legal aid organizations serve our most vulnerable residents by helping them avoid homelessness and unemployment, gain access to health care and veterans’ services, receive a quality education, and escape domestic violence. Access to legal advice and representation should not be dependent on income, and we must ensure that these programs have the resources they need,” said Marijane Benner Browne, chair of the MLAC Board of Directors. “

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ABOUT MLAC

The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation was established by the state legislature in 1983 to ensure that low-income people with critical, non-criminal legal problems would have access to legal information, advice and representation. MLAC is the largest funding source for civil legal aid programs in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corp. Thanks House Ways & Means Committee for Budget Recommendation for Civil Legal Aid

BOSTON, April 12, 2017―On Monday, the House Ways & Means Committee recommended $19.5 million for civil legal aid funding in its Fiscal Year 2018 budget. This is a $1.5 million increase over FY17.

“We’re incredibly pleased that the House Ways & Means Committee recognizes the role that civil legal aid funding plays in promoting equal access to justice for low-income residents of the Commonwealth, and we’re very grateful for this support,” said Lonnie Powers, executive director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC). “We’re particularly gratified that House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Brian Dempsey highlighted the Committee’s commitment to ‘protecting and providing for our Commonwealth’s most vulnerable residents’ in his letter to the Commonwealth explaining the House Ways & Means Committee’s budget by noting that the proposed increase will allow civil legal aid programs around the state to take on additional cases.”

Representative Ruth Balser will file an amendment to increase the House Ways & Means recommendation by $1.5 million, for a total appropriation of $21 million, as the House budget is debated. This funding increase would be another important step in addressing the significant unmet need among those who are eligible for and seek civil legal aid. Eligible residents are those with incomes at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty level, or $591 per week for a family of four.

“Given the great depth of unmet need among those seeking civil legal aid, and the significant return on investment yielded by civil legal aid funding, we’ll continue to advocate for increased investment by the state,” Powers added. “Our funding request is particularly urgent when proposals have been put forward in Washington, DC that would eliminate the Legal Services Corporation, which provides funding to civil legal aid organizations throughout the country, including several in Massachusetts.”

Earlier this year, MLAC released its annual Economic Benefits Report, which showed that civil legal assistance provided by MLAC-funded programs in fiscal year 2016 yielded at least $49.3 million in savings or new revenue for the state and its residents. Successful representation in appeals to Social Security Insurance, Social Security Disability Insurance, Unemployment Insurance, Medicare coverage, and federal tax decisions resulted in $15.8 million in new federal revenue for the Commonwealth. An additional $21.2 million was gained through child support orders, debt relief for homeowners in foreclosure cases, and additional non-federal Unemployment Insurance claims and representation for tenants. The state saved $12.1 million in services that it would have otherwise provided if not for civil legal aid. These services include emergency shelter, foster care, and medical costs related to domestic violence.

“Legal aid organizations serve our most vulnerable residents by helping them avoid homelessness and unemployment, gain access to health care and veterans’ services, receive a quality education, and escape domestic violence. Access to legal advice and representation should not be dependent on income, and we must ensure that these programs have the resources they need,” said Marijane Benner Browne, chair of the MLAC Board of Directors. “Additionally, this work yields significant economic returns for the state. This is an investment that the state should be making.”

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ABOUT MLAC

The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation was established by the state legislature in 1983 to ensure that low-income people with critical, non-criminal legal problems would have access to legal information, advice and representation. MLAC is the largest funding source for civil legal aid programs in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation Statement on Proposed Cuts to Federal Legal Aid Funding

BOSTON, March 16, 2017—The proposed budget by President Donald Trump, released this morning by the White House Office of Management and Budget, would eliminate funding for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) and several other federal programs that provide vital safety net services to low-income people here in Massachusetts and across the United States. Lonnie Powers, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation offered the following statement in response:

“LSC distributes grants to civil legal aid organizations that provide legal advice and representation to low-income individuals facing serious civil legal problems related to housing, employment, domestic violence, health care, and education, among other issues. The elimination of funding for LSC, coupled with cuts to other programs that help poor and elderly residents secure food and water, heat, housing, employment, economic opportunity, and safe workplaces, would have devastating and long-lasting consequences on the stability of individuals, families, and communities across our state and our country. The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation remains dedicated to the promise of equal justice for all, and will continue to support legal aid programs across the Commonwealth as they work to provide much-needed civil legal services to our state’s most vulnerable residents.”

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ABOUT MLAC

The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation was established by the state legislature in 1983 to ensure that low-income people with critical, non-criminal legal problems would have access to legal information, advice and representation. MLAC is the largest funding source for civil legal aid programs in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corp. Statement on Gov. Baker’s Budget Recommendation

BOSTON, January 25, 2017―Today, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker released his FY2018 budget with a recommendation to fund civil legal aid at $18,180,000 in FY2018. This is a one percent increase over the amount that civil legal aid was funded in FY2017.

We are pleased that Gov. Baker recognizes the role that civil legal aid funding plays in promoting equal access to justice for low-income residents of the Commonwealth. We are grateful for his support, particularly when proposals have been put forward in Washington DC that would eliminate the Legal Services Corporation, which provides funding to civil legal aid organizations in every state including Massachusetts.

Given the great depth of unmet need among those seeking civil legal aid, and the significant return on investment yielded by civil legal aid funding, the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) will continue to advocate for a $5 million increase, for a total appropriation of $23 million.

Tomorrow, Chief Justice Ralph Gants of the Supreme Judicial Court, Boston Bar Association President Carol A. Starkey, and Massachusetts Bar Association President Jeffrey N. Catalano will join hundreds of private attorneys from more than 40 law firms at the Massachusetts State House for the 18th Annual Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid. Attendees of this annual lobby day, one of the largest held at the State House each year, will request a $5 million increase in state funding for MLAC, which disburses the state’s civil legal aid funding to 14 civil legal aid programs across the state.

“Civil legal aid is a key part of efforts to provide justice in Massachusetts. It helps the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable residents avoid homelessness and unemployment, gain access to health care and veterans’ services, receive a quality education, and escape domestic violence,” said Lonnie Powers, executive director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC). “State investment in civil legal aid is critical to the success of these efforts, and with a return of between $2.50 and $5 for every dollar the Commonwealth spends, it is a smart investment.”

The request for a $5 million increase in civil legal aid funding is based on a recommendation by the Boston Bar Association Statewide Task Force to Expand Civil Legal Aid in Massachusetts, whose research determined civil legal aid is unavailable to the majority of qualified residents who seek it. The Task Force’s report, issued in 2014, demonstrated that civil legal aid programs are forced to turn away 64% of the income-eligible residents (at or below 125% of the Federal Poverty Level, or $30,375 a year for a family of four) who request help with a legal problem for which legal aid could provide assistance.

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ABOUT MLAC

The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation was established by the state legislature in 1983 to ensure that low-income people with critical, non-criminal legal problems would have access to legal information, advice and representation. MLAC is the largest funding source for civil legal aid programs in Massachusetts.