Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corp. Statement on Gov. Baker’s Budget Recommendation to Maintain Funding for Civil Legal Aid
BOSTON, March 4, 2015 – Today, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker released his FY2016 budget with a recommendation to fund services for civil legal aid in FY2016 at the FY2015 rate, which reflects a $268,000 cut approved in February. Amid an austere budget climate, the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) appreciates Governor Baker’s funding recommendation. 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, MLAC will continue to advocate for its full funding request of $25 million.
Currently, more than 60 percent of those eligible for civil legal aid in Massachusetts who seek services are turned away due to lack of resources. To bridge this gap in access to justice, MLAC is requesting a $10 million increase in the state’s investment in civil legal aid, from $15 million to $25 million.
“Civil legal aid is a crucial safety net for thousands of low-income residents across Massachusetts, giving them access to legal help as they seek to escape intimate partner violence or overcome barriers to employment, education, or quality healthcare,” said Lonnie Powers, MLAC Executive Director. “Increasing funding for civil legal aid saves the state money. For example, every dollar spent on legal aid to keep people from losing their homes saves the state more than two dollars in homeless benefits.”
Civil legal aid programs 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. MLAC, which disburses the state’s civil legal aid funding to grantees, is seeking a $10 million increase in civil legal aid funding to make adequate grants to 16 civil legal aid programs across the state so they can address the shortages in staff and other resources that prevent them from serving all eligible clients/residents.
The request for a $10 million increase to MLAC’s budget is based on a recommendation by the Statewide Task Force to Expand Civil Legal Aid in Massachusetts, which last year issued a report that determined civil legal aid is unavailable to the majority of qualified residents who seek it. The report called for an additional state investment of $30 million in civil legal aid in Massachusetts, beginning with a $10 million dollar increase in FY 16.
The Statewide Task Force to Expand Civil Legal Aid in Massachusetts was created by the Boston Bar Association in April 2013 to assess the work of civil legal aid in Massachusetts and determine how best to address unmet civil legal aid needs.
Three independent economic consulting firms which did analyses for the Task Force found that every dollar spent on civil legal aid in eviction and foreclosure cases saved the state $2.69 on state services associated with housing needs such as “emergency shelter, health care, foster care, and law enforcement.” Every dollar spent on assisting qualified people to receive federal benefits brings in $5 to the state and its residents. Lastly, every dollar spent on civil legal aid related to domestic violence is offset by a dollar in medical costs averted due to fewer incidents of assault.
“Equitable access to our justice system should not be out of reach for our low-income residents. Often, it is what prevents them from cycling further down into poverty and instability,” said Marijane Benner Browne, chair of the MLAC Board of Directors. “As we move forward, we must ensure that legal aid organizations across the Commonwealth have the resources they need to serve our most vulnerable residents.”
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. For more information, visit www.mlac.org.