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Budget Talks will Determine Size of Legal Aid Gaps (State House News)

Below is an article published by State House News on January 31 highlighting recent budget talks for civil legal aid as the EJC recently kicked off its budget advocacy campaign with its annual Walk to the Hill event.

Funding for legal aid for those who can’t afford it would rise slightly under Gov. Maura Healey’s annual budget, which also calls for a new $3.5 million program to increase access to legal representation for low-income tenants and low-income owner occupants in eviction proceedings.

“This a new investment at a time when many programs are being scaled back or level-funded, making this even more extraordinary,” Annette Duke of the Access to Counsel Advisory Committee wrote in an email after Healey’s budget was released last week, calling the planned program a “big step forward.”

According to the governor’s budget documents, less than 3 percent of tenants have legal representation in non-payment cases in housing court.

“Maintaining a robust rental assistance program and supporting efforts to reduce evictions while our state struggles with an affordability crisis is crucial to helping families avoid a housing crisis and face possible homelessness,” Healey’s team wrote in one of her budget briefs.

The budget bill, which is now before the House Ways and Means Committee for a lengthy review, also includes $50.5 million in funding for civil legal aid. That’s up from $41 million in fiscal year 2023 and $49 million in fiscal 2024, but short of the $55 million sought at the Equal Justice Coalition’s well-attended lobby day last week.

According to the coalition, a partnership of the Massachusetts Bar Association, the Boston Bar Association, and the Mass. Legal Assistance Corporation, more than 600 attorneys and law students turned out to promote that difference that legal aid can make in people’s lives.

The coalition, which is seeking $55 million in aid for fiscal 2025, said there’s been a decrease in those eligible for aid being turned away thanks to investments over the past few years, but still only about 50 percent of qualified applicants are able to receive legal representation.

Civil legal aid provides free representation, guidance, and resources to people who are facing legal barriers to accessing basic needs and cannot afford an attorney, according to the coalition. Households with incomes at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty level ($39,000 per year for a family of four and $18,825 for an individual) qualify for civil legal aid.

The State House News article can be found here.