Talk to the Hill draws more than 1,000 people to support $49M for civil legal aid in FY24

BOSTON, January 27– On Thursday, Governor Maura Healey, Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Kimberly Budd, bar association leaders, and legal aid clients joined a virtual gathering of more than 1,000 people – including 755 members of the private bar and several dozen law students for Talk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid. The event kicked off the Equal Justice Coalition‘s campaign to support $49 million in the FY24 state budget for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, which funds civil legal aid organizations across the state. Civil legal aid organizations provide legal advice and representation at no cost to Massachusetts residents with low incomes. People and families with incomes at or below 125% of the federal poverty level ($37,500 per year for a family of four) qualify for civil legal aid.

The Walk to the Hill lobby day event, which engages members of the private bar and is now in its 24th year, has been held in a virtual format since the COVID-19 pandemic.

After hearing from the program’s speakers, attendees joined breakout rooms with their legislators. These meetings offered a unique opportunity for private attorneys and law students to speak directly to legislators and share why they believe civil legal aid is critically important.

Photo of Maura Healey speaking in front of green wall and framed painting.

Maura Healey speaks at Talk to the Hill 2023

In her opening remarks, Governor Healey, a longtime supporter of civil legal aid, said she looks forward to “continuing this partnership to make sure that every Massachusetts resident has access to the legal representation they deserve, and to make our state more just and equal for all.”

Healey also noted that legal aid services have become even more critical throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. “That’s why we need legal aid to be strong,” she said. “Not only to handle the uptick of cases we’ve seen, but also to help us address systemic problems, level the playing field, and secure access to justice for everyone who needs it.”

Screenshot of Chief Justice Budd speaking on video, with blurred background and close captioned text reading "The need is clear."

Chief Justice Budd speaks during the program.

Chief Justice Budd spoke about the importance of legal aid in maintaining confidence in the legal system. She referenced a recent nationwide poll conducted by the National Center for State Courts that asked respondents if they believe the court system is fair.

“The responses from people of color were particularly concerning,” Chief Justice Budd said. “Approximately 60% of Black and Hispanic respondents said that the phrase ‘provide[s] equal justice to all’ does not describe state courts.

There are undoubtedly many complex factors that contribute to this perception of unfairness. But one concrete step that we can take … is to increase the availability of counsel for people who cannot afford a lawyer.”

Powerful testimonials

Simi, smiling, sitting on office chair in front of a gray wall and blue and white abstract painting.

Simi shares her legal aid story.

Client speakers included Simi, a young woman who connected with the Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts for help with an immigration issue. Simi was 16 when her hometown in Nigeria was attacked by terrorists while she was studying at a summer program in New England, for which she’d earned a scholarship. “I got scared,” Simi said, “and I decided to not go back. It was one of the most difficult decisions I had to make.”

“Having access to organizations like the Children’s Law Center, and lawyers like Jay [McManus] … it’s like a ticket to hope,” Simi said. “I’ve moved from just having hope to actualizing dreams that I never thought I’d accomplish in life.” With help from her attorney, Simi secured a green card in late 2019. She graduated from Wesleyan University last May.

Jim, smiling, sits at a table with glass of water in front of him. An abstract orange painting is visible in the background.

Jim, a legal aid client, shares his story.

A second client speaker, Jim, told his story of getting helped by his local legal aid with an unemployment issue. Jim worked in the bathroom remodeling business when the COVID-19 pandemic began. Afraid to risk his own health and the health of others (and heeding the advice of public health officials), Jim stopped going into other people’s homes for a period of time. He filed for Unemployment Insurance, and his application was approved. A year after he had received his benefits, however, Jim got a letter stating he was determined to be ineligible and needed to repay more than $35,000.

“I was shocked, to say the least,” says Jim. He contacted MetroWest Legal Services and an attorney took his case right away. The attorney represented Jim at a hearing and presented evidence supporting his appropriate refusal of jobs during a global pandemic. The judge ruled him eligible to receive Unemployment Insurance, and he did not have to repay any amount of the money he had rightfully received.

“When I contacted legal aid and found out they were willing to work with me on this case, I was relieved tremendously,” Jim told the Talk to the Hill crowd. “It meant a significant difference to my emotional and financial health.”

More funding in FY24 is critical

Louis Tompros, Partner at WilmerHale in Boston, serves as Chair of the Equal Justice Coalition which coordinates the event each year. Tompros says the impact of increased state appropriated funding is evidenced by improvements in the number of eligible residents served. A few years ago, 57% of people who met financial requirements and applied for help were denied representation; today that number is 47%.

While it is encouraging that organizations are accepting more cases, Tompros emphasizes that “nearly half of the people who are eligible still do not receive representation simply because staff resources are insufficient.”

Lynne Parker, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, says that since the pandemic began, “We’ve seen dramatic increases in housing cases and unemployment cases, for example. Responding to these and other urgent needs requires a robust workforce of legal aid staff. More funding will help recruit and retain skilled advocates needed to make justice for all a reality in Massachusetts.”

The recorded program is available for viewing at ejctalktothehill.org.

List of Speakers:

  • Governor Maura Healey
  • Chief Justice Kimberly Budd, Supreme Judicial Court
  • Grace V.B. Garcia, President of the Massachusetts Bar Association
  • Chinh H. Pham, President of the Boston Bar Association
  • Lynne Parker, Executive Director, Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation
  • Jacquelynne J. Bowman, Executive Director, Greater Boston Legal Services
  • Legal aid clients who received help over the past year
  • Host: Louis Tompros, Chair, Equal Justice Coalition

Additional Coverage of Talk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid:

 

Hundreds of lawyers, advocates to join virtual “Talk to the Hill” event asking Massachusetts state legislators for increased civil legal aid funding

January 26 lobby day seeks $49M for civil legal aid in FY24 

BOSTON, January 24 – Governor Maura Healey, Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Kimberly Budd, bar association leaders, and legal aid clients will join a virtual gathering of hundreds of private attorneys and law students on Thursday, January 26, at 11 a.m. for Talk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid. They will urge state legislators to support $49 million in the FY24 state budget for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation to fund organizations that provide legal advice and representation at no cost to Massachusetts residents with low incomes. People and families with incomes at or below 125% of the federal poverty level ($37,500 per year for a family of four) qualify for civil legal aid. 

The Walk to the Hill lobby day event, which engages members of the private bar and is now in its 24th year, has been held in a virtual format since the COVID-19 pandemic. 

After hearing from the program’s speakers, attendees will have the opportunity to join Zoom breakout rooms with their legislators. These meetings offer a unique opportunity for private attorneys and law students to speak directly to policymakers and share why they believe civil legal aid is important.  

Louis Tompros, Partner at WilmerHale in Boston, serves as Chair of the Equal Justice Coalition, which coordinates the event each year. Tompros says the impact of increased state appropriated funding is evidenced by improvements in the “turnaway rate,” or the percentage of people who are financially eligible to be represented by a legal aid attorney but are turned away due to a lack of resources. 

While organizations are accepting more cases than they were a few years ago, “nearly half of the people who are eligible still do not receive representation simply because staff resources are insufficient,” says Tompros. 

Lynne Parker, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, says the effects of COVID-19 are still being felt by people living in poverty. 

“Case numbers have risen since the pandemic in a number of areas. We’ve seen dramatic increases in housing cases and unemployment cases, for example,” Parker says, adding that, “Responding to these and other urgent needs requires a robust workforce of legal aid staff. More funding will help recruit and retain skilled advocates needed to make justice for all a reality in Massachusetts.” 

LIST OF SPEAKERS 

–Maura Healey, Governor of Massachusetts
–Chief Justice Kimberly Budd, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court 
–Grace V.B. Garcia, President of the Massachusetts Bar Association 
–Chinh H. Pham, President of the Boston Bar Association 
–Lynne Parker, Executive Director, Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation 
–Jacquelynne J. Bowman, Executive Director, Greater Boston Legal Services 
–Legal aid clients who received help over the past year  
–Host: Louis Tompros, Chair, Equal Justice Coalition 

Media are welcome to attend the speaking program and the virtual event is open to the public. Please register at ejctalktothehill.org. 

About the EJC 
The Equal Justice Coalition is a collaboration of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, Boston Bar Association, and Massachusetts Bar Association working to increase state funding for civil legal aid. 

www.equaljusticecoalition.org 
@equaljusticema 
#ITalkforJustice 

Equal Justice Coalition recognizes four law firms and UMass Law for legal aid advocacy

Awards recognize exceptional participation at the 2022 Talk to the Hill

The Equal Justice Coalition has recognized four law firms and UMass Law School for outstanding participation in the 2022 Talk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid.

The award winners are:

Ropes & Gray, winner of the Highest Participation Award

Goodwin Procter, winner of the Exceptional Support Award

Meehan, Boyle, Black & Bogdanow, winner of the Nancy King Award

Goodwin Procter and Ropes & Gray (tie), winners of the Team Advocacy Award

UMass Law, winner of the Highest Participation for a Law School Award

Davis Malm, winner of the Social Media Advocacy Award

Talk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid is a lobby day for increased funding for civil legal aid organizations through the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) state budget line item. The annual “Walk to the Hill,” event has been held virtually as “Talk to the Hill” for the past two years due to the coronavirus pandemic. Last January, nearly 1,000 attorneys, law students, and advocates convened online to ask legislators to increase the state appropriation for civil legal aid by $6 million. The Commonwealth ultimately included the requested increase in the FY23 budget, appropriating a total of $41 million for civil legal aid.

This year’s lobby day will be held online January 26, 2023, at 11 a.m. Participants can register at ejctalktothehill.org/register. The speaking program will include Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Kimberly Budd, bar association presidents, other leaders in the legal community, and legal aid clients who will share how civil legal aid helped them overcome challenging circumstances. Lawyers, advocates, and law students will have the opportunity to speak with their legislators to lobby for $49 million in civil legal aid funding in FY24.

“MLAC is so grateful to private bar attorneys and law students for their efforts to support civil legal aid and promote equal access to justice for everyone, regardless of income,” said Lynne Parker, Executive Director of MLAC. “Legal aid is a lifeline for tens of thousands of Massachusetts residents each year, helping protect their health, safety, housing, employment, benefits, access to education and more. It is crucial that we increase funding for this essential service.”

About the Award Winners:

Ropes & Gray won the Highest Participation Award for having the largest group of lawyers attend.

Goodwin Procter received the Exceptional Support Award in recognition of having the second largest group of lawyers attend.

Meehan Boyle received the Nancy King for bringing the largest percentage of law firm employees to the Talk. The award is named for Nancy King, a longtime legal aid attorney in Boston who passed away in 2007.

Goodwin Procter and Ropes & Gray tied for the Team Advocacy Award, which is given to the law firm that visits the most legislative offices during the Talk to the Hill.

UMass Law earned the Highest Participation for a Law School Award for having the most law students attend.

Davis Malm received the inaugural Social Media Advocacy Award, an honor given to the law firm with the greatest number of posts about Talk to the Hill across social media channels, including participation in the #ITalkForJustice placard campaign.

 About the EJC
The Equal Justice Coalition is a collaboration of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance CorporationBoston Bar Association, and Massachusetts Bar Association, working to increase state funding for civil legal aid.

www.equaljusticecoalition.org
@equaljusticema
#ITalkforJustice

Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission announces four new members and release of report on lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic

BOSTON, October 26, 2022 — The Supreme Judicial Court today announced the appointments of four new members to the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission and the recent release of the Commission’s report on lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report, “Creating a More Equitable System: Lessons Learned During the COVID-19 Pandemic”, was released in September of 2022. The report compiles feedback from a range of access to justice stakeholders and reflects on lessons learned during the pandemic and opportunities to take advantage of Trial Court adaptations and innovations to improve access to justice for all court users.

First established by the Supreme Judicial Court in 2005, the Access to Justice Commission seeks to improve access to justice for people who are unable to afford an attorney for essential civil legal needs, such as cases involving housing, consumer debt, and family law.

“Each of these new Commissioners joins us with extensive relevant experience and will bring insight and knowledge essential to the Commission’s ongoing efforts to ensure equal access to justice,” said Supreme Judicial Court Justice Serge Georges, Jr., and Marijane Benner Browne, Co-Chairs of the Access to Justice Commission. “We are also pleased to share the Commission’s report and look forward to working collaboratively with stakeholders on moving the report’s recommendations forward.”

The new Access to Justice Commission members are:

  • Justine A. Dunlap is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts School of Law where she teaches courses on access to justice, family law and practice, and civil procedure. Her publications have focused on domestic violence, juvenile law, mental health law, and school teaching, including contemplative learning practices. Professor Dunlap began her legal career at the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia and later worked at the District of Columbia Superior Court as a staff attorney and Director of the Counsel for Child Abuse and Neglect, a branch of the Superior Court’s Family Division.
  • Colin Harnsgate is a Senior Staff Attorney in the Bankruptcy and Consumer Units at the Volunteer Lawyers Project (VLP). His first two years of law practice were with AmeriCorps Legal Advocates of Massachusetts, where he served at Rosie’s Place and Greater Boston Legal Services. Attorney Harnsgate serves as an Adjunct Clinical Instructor of the Consumer Debt Practicum at Boston University School of Law. He is also a Co-Chair of the Commission’s Consumer Debt Committee.
  • Danielle Johnson is the Deputy Director of the Mayor’s Office of Housing Stability in Boston. Previously, Attorney Johnson was the Managing Attorney of the Elder, Health and Disability Unit, and was a staff attorney in the Housing Unit, at Greater Boston Legal Services. She also worked in private practice handling criminal matters. Attorney Johnson is a published author in the Boston Bar Journal and the Boston Globe where she has written about the need for diversity in the legal community. Attorney Johnson is an Adjunct Professor at Suffolk Law School where she teaches an Access to Justice Seminar. She is also a member of both the Commission’s Racial Equity and Justice Committee and its Housing Committee.
  • Lisa Owens is the Executive Director of the Hyams Foundation, which funds organizations and networks working toward racial and economic justice in Greater Boston and Massachusetts. Ms. Owens brings over 25 years of experience building local grassroots organizations and supporting national movements.  She previously served as the Executive Director of City Life/Vida Urbana, a prominent housing justice group that is nationally recognized for organizing communities against displacement and building collective power for systemic change. Ms. Owens has taught courses on community organizing and nonprofit management in local universities and has served on the boards of many Boston-based and national organizations committed to fighting for social, racial, and economic justice.

Among other activities, the Access to Justice Commission coordinates with civil legal aid organizations to support their activities and develop new initiatives to address unmet needs. The Commission also works to increase the number of attorneys able to provide pro bono or limited assistance civil legal services and coordinates with the court system on initiatives that assist individuals to better understand and navigate civil legal proceedings. The Commission’s members include representatives from the court system, legal aid organizations, social service organizations, bar associations, law schools, businesses, and other stakeholders in the access to justice community.

More information about the Commission and its work is available on the Commission’s website.

Boston Bar Foundation announces grant to Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission for civil legal aid directory

The Boston Bar Foundation (BBF) announced on Thursday that it will grant $12,000 in special funding for the purpose of creating a civil legal aid directory to serve the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The donation was made to the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC), acting for the benefit of the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission (ATJC).

The directory will inform and educate private foundations and businesses about philanthropic opportunities to support legal aid programs by enabling potential donors to quickly and easily find where to make donations to legal services that align with their ideals and goals.

“The Boston Bar Foundation is thrilled to provide funding for this project, which supports the ecosystem of legal aid providers throughout the Commonwealth,” remarked BBF President Russell Beck. “In addition to our portfolio of direct legal services granting, the BBF’s support of this new resource will enable organizations working directly in the community to ensure equal access to civil justice.”

“The civil legal aid directory is a powerful tool to help funders achieve their goals in areas such as family preservation, housing, education, immigration, racial equity, and further access to justice for those unable to afford an attorney,” said Marijane Benner Browne, co-chair of the Massachusetts ATJC. “The civil legal aid directory will also serve as a valuable resource to those seeking legal assistance, as well as researchers.”

Currently, information about more than 70 organizations funded by the BBF, the Massachusetts Bar Foundation, and MLAC has been accumulated. According to John Kenneth Felter, member of the Massachusetts ATJC Revenue Enhancement Committee, the directory “will contain key information about each organization, including, among other things: contact information, types of legal services provided, mission statement, geographic service area, number of attorneys and legal assistants, numbers and types of matters opened and closed, and basic financial information.”

“Our hope is that many funders across the state will learn about the civil legal aid directory, gain a better understanding of the critical and essential work being done by civil legal aid organizations in Massachusetts, and fund organizations that align with their mission and goals,” said MLAC Executive Director Lynne Parker.

First established by the Supreme Judicial Court in 2005, the ATJC seeks to improve access to justice for people who are unable to afford an attorney for essential civil legal needs. Among other activities, the ATJC coordinates with civil legal aid organizations to support their activities and develop new initiatives to address unmet needs. MLAC—the largest funder of legal aid organizations in the Commonwealth—provides funding, leadership, and a variety of supports to statewide and regional legal aid organizations across Massachusetts which serve low-income people with civil legal problems.

“The mission of the Commission and the BBF go hand in hand, as both strive to facilitate the development and implementation of innovative strategies aimed at increasing access to justice for those unable to afford legal counsel and expanding access to legal services,” said Benner Brown.

The BBF serves as the charitable affiliate of the Boston Bar Association. The Foundation helps serve the community by funding and promoting innovation in the delivery of legal services; facilitating access to legal counsel in underserved communities; and supporting the public service projects and pro bono work of the Boston Bar members.

MLAC applauds $41M for civil legal aid in FY23 Final Budget

$6 million increase will address heightened need for legal services due to COVID-19

BOSTON, July 28, 2022 – Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law the FY23 Budget of the Commonwealth, including $41 million to fund civil legal aid through the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, line item 0321-1600. That is a $6 million increase over FY22, and the amount requested by MLAC to fund civil legal aid organizations across the state.

“We want to express our deepest gratitude to Governor Baker and the legislature for their continued commitment to increasing access to justice through civil legal aid funding,” said Lynne Parker, executive director of MLAC. “Though we look toward recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, there are still thousands of low-income residents across the Commonwealth facing serious non-criminal legal problems that threaten their health, safety, and financial stability. For these residents, access to civil legal aid is essential to helping them preserve their housing, income, benefits, and education.”

People with an income at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty level—$34,688 for a family of four in 2022—are eligible for civil legal aid.

Parker also thanked the members of the House and Senate for their support for this increase, noting that the legislature has continually demonstrated a deep commitment to expanding access to justice for their constituents and other residents across the Commonwealth.

Parker recognized the ongoing civil legal aid advocacy of the Equal Justice Coalition, including the Massachusetts Bar Association, the Boston Bar Association, the Women’s Bar Association, managing partners of many of the state’s largest law firms, corporate in-house counsel, law schools, and advocates with social services organizations across the Commonwealth.

MLAC urges Governor Baker to approve Conference Committee FY23 Budget

Governor Baker has 10 days to sign or veto budget

BOSTON, July 20, 2022 – The FY23 Budget Conference Committee released its FY23 Budget Report on July 17 that includes $41 million for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, line item 0321-1600, which is the amount requested by MLAC to fund civil legal aid organizations across the state. Governor Baker has 10 days following the release of the Conference Committee Budget to sign or veto portions of the final version.  

“We are enormously grateful that the House of Representatives and the Senate included $41 million in the FY23 Budget, a $6 million increase for civil legal aid. We urge Governor Baker to approve this MLAC funding when he signs the budget,” said Lynne Parker, executive director of MLAC. “The $41 million for civil legal aid is what MLAC requested and is supported by the House and Senate. This increase will go a long way toward ensuring that more low-income residents have access to legal information, advice, and representation on civil matters as they face continuing hardships brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Parker noted that the areas of unemployment compensation, housing, income supports and education saw a sharp increase in demand for legal services during the pandemic. People with an income at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty line—$34,688 for a family of four in 2022—are eligible for this civil legal aid.

Parker thanked the six-person Conference Committee, as well as House and Senate leadership, for their efforts to increase access to justice. “Civil legal aid is an essential service that protects the lives and livelihoods of so many in our Commonwealth. With an additional $6 million in FY23, legal aid organizations will be able to improve their organizational capacity to respond to emerging legal needs of our residents and upgrade necessary technology for clients and staff. We are now counting on Governor Baker to support this increase when he signs the FY23 Budget.”

Parker recognized the Equal Justice Coalition for its ongoing advocacy for civil legal aid, including the Massachusetts Bar Association, the Boston Bar Association, the Women’s Bar Association, managing partners of many of the state’s largest law firms, corporate in-house counsel, law schools, and advocates with social services organizations across the Commonwealth.

MLAC Commends Senate Approval of Additional $1M Increase for Civil Legal Aid

With amendment, total appropriation for MLAC rises to $41M

BOSTON, May 26, 2022 – Yesterday, the Massachusetts Senate approved an amendment to increase civil legal aid funding an additional $1 million for Fiscal Year 2023, for a total increase of $6 million. This brings the total annual funding included in the Senate budget to $41 million for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, line item 0321-1600.

“On behalf of MLAC and the civil legal aid organizations it funds, I would like to express my gratitude to Senate President Karen Spilka and Senate Ways and Means Chair Michael Rodrigues for their leadership in providing this much-needed increase,” said Lynne Parker, MLAC executive director. “We also thank Senate Majority Leader Cynthia Creem and Senate Judiciary Chair James Eldridge for their ongoing leadership and support of critical funding for civil legal aid and for championing the amendment adding $1 million in funding for civil legal aid, and the 22 other senators who co-sponsored it.”

“By approving this budget amendment, the Senate has recognized the heightened need for civil legal aid across the Commonwealth due to the continuing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Legal aid attorneys provide vital services to low-income people, assisting with serious civil legal issues such as unemployment compensation, housing, income supports and education,” Parker said. “While the pandemic has widened existing inequities that low-income people face, civil legal aid organizations have rapidly innovated to address the rise in cases. It is important that organizations have additional resources to continue addressing COVID-19’s lasting impacts.”

In FY21, MLAC-funded civil legal aid organizations assisted 92,000 Massachusetts residents. Due to recent funding increases, civil legal aid organizations have reduced the percentage of eligible people turned away to 57 percent, down from 64 percent five years ago.

“Increasing access to civil legal aid is a public good, and we all must advocate for a more expansive vision of legal aid,” Majority Leader Creem said.

“I am very proud of what the Legislature has done over the past few years,” Chair Eldridge said. “Low-income people are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, housing insecurity, inflation and other threats to stability that often require civil legal assistance. I’m extremely proud of the legal aid agencies that have stepped up.”

MLAC Backs Senate Budget Amendment to Increase Civil Legal Aid Funding

BOSTON, May 10, 2022 – Massachusetts Senate Majority Leader Cynthia Creem and Senate Judiciary Chair James Eldridge have filed an amendment to increase civil legal aid funding by $1 million, for total funding of $41 million in the Senate budget.

Today, the Senate Ways and Means Committee presented its Fiscal Year 2023 budget, including $40 million to fund civil legal aid through the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, line item 0321-1600. While this amount represents a $5 million increase over FY22, it is not the $41 million recommended by MLAC.

“Civil legal aid is an integral part of the Commonwealth’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, and we are grateful to Senate President Karen Spilka and Senate Ways and Means Chair Michael Rodrigues for their leadership in providing this funding,” said Lynne Parker, executive director of MLAC. “With the heightened demand for legal services in mind, as a result of the ongoing pandemic and its disproportionate impact on low-income people, we urge senators to support the amendment sponsored by Majority Leader Cynthia Creem and Judiciary Chair James Eldridge, which would add an additional $1 million in funding and help more people.” People with an income at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty line —$34,688 per year for a family of four—are eligible for civil legal aid.

Parker said that civil legal aid cases are expected to rise by nearly 20 percent by the end of FY22, compared to last year. “Massachusetts legal aid organizations are facing a financial and workforce strain as they are seeing increased caseloads, especially in the areas of unemployment insurance, housing, consumer and finance, immigration, and education. Strengthening organizations’ capacity will allow them to assist more low-income residents in accessing their most basic needs. With increased funding, organizations will be able to hire more attorneys and critical staff, raise attorney salaries to similar levels as other public sector attorney jobs, and upgrade technology to better meet the needs of clients and staff,” Parker said.

Parker recognized the Equal Justice Coalition for its ongoing advocacy for civil legal aid, including the Massachusetts Bar Association, the Boston Bar Association, the Women’s Bar Association, managing partners of many of the state’s largest law firms, corporate in-house counsel, law schools, and advocates with social services organizations across the Commonwealth.

House Approves Additional $1.5M Increase for Civil Legal Aid

With amendment, total appropriation for MLAC rises to $41M

BOSTON, April 27, 2022 – On Tuesday, the Massachusetts House of Representatives approved an amendment to increase civil legal aid funding an additional $1.5 million for Fiscal Year 2023, for a total increase of $6 million. This brings the total annual funding included in the House budget to $41 million for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, line item 0321-1600.

“On behalf of MLAC and the Massachusetts legal aid organizations it funds, which have assisted low-income people facing serious civil legal issues throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we are extremely grateful for this increase in funding,” said Lynne Parker, executive director of MLAC. “We thank Speaker Ron Mariano and Ways and Means Chair Aaron Michlewitz for their leadership and strong support of increased funding for MLAC and civil legal services. We are immensely grateful to Division Leader Ruth Balser and House Judiciary Chair Michael Day for championing the amendment adding $1.5 million in funding for civil legal aid, and we thank the other 77 representatives who co-sponsored it.”

“Bolstering legal aid organizations’ capacity to assist vulnerable people in areas including housing, unemployment insurance and access to health care comes at a critical time during the Commonwealth’s pandemic recovery,” Parker said. “With this increase in funding, the House has recognized the important role civil legal aid plays in protecting the lives and livelihoods of thousands of Massachusetts residents.”

“I am proud of the House for recognizing the essential work done by MLAC to make sure that low-income residents of Massachusetts have legal representation in the courts,” said Balser. “With this increased appropriation, many more eligible individuals will have help with the challenges they face ranging from eviction to unemployment to immigration and health care.”

The Massachusetts Senate is expected to release its budget in early May.