BOSTON, April 11, 2018―On Wednesday, the House Ways & Means Committee recommended $20 million for civil legal aid funding in its Fiscal Year 2019 budget, which represents a $2 million increase over the Fiscal Year 2018 budget.
“We’re 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 are extremely grateful for this support,” said Lonnie Powers, executive director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC). “However, 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 need to continue to advocate for increased investment by the state during the House floor debate.”
Currently, civil legal aid programs around the state turn away approximately 65 percent of eligible residents who seek services—nearly 45,000 people each year. To be eligible for civil legal aid, applicants must have incomes at or below 125% of the Federal Poverty Level, which is $31,375 a year for a family of four.
Earlier this year, MLAC released its annual Economic Benefits Report, which showed that civil legal assistance provided by MLAC-funded programs in fiscal year 2017 yielded at least $59.2 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 $17.6 million in new federal revenue for the Commonwealth. An additional $24.3 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 $17.2 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.
Representative Ruth Balser and Representative Claire Cronin will file an amendment to increase the House Ways & Means recommendation by $2 million, for a total appropriation of $22 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.
“Public spending should be aligned with effective, successful programs that improve the health, safety, and well-being of our residents. Our 14 community-based programs across Massachusetts meet that bar,” said Marijane Benner Browne, chair of the MLAC Board of Directors. “Civil legal aid programs assist people who are struggling to make ends meet resolve civil legal 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.”
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.