House Ways & Means recommends $17 million for civil legal aid

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

Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corp. Statement on House Ways & Means Budget Recommendation to Increase Funding for Civil Legal Aid

BOSTON, April 15, 2015 – The House Ways & Means Committee recommended $17 million for civil legal aid funding in its Fiscal Year 2016 budget issued today. This amount is $2 million more than last year’s appropriation and a positive step in the direction of the $25 million originally requested by the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC).

MLAC disburses the state’s civil legal aid funding to 14 civil legal aid programs across the state 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.

“Civil legal aid is one of our most potent tools in fighting poverty, as it gives thousands of low-income residents across Massachusetts 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. “At the same time, state investments in civil legal aid yield significant economic returns for our clients and the state.”

The Commonwealth should support programs that not only make the lives of our residents and communities better, but also those that yield a return on investment. Earlier this year, MLAC released its annual Economic Benefits Report, which demonstrated that successful representation in appeals to Social Security Insurance, Social Security Disability Insurance, Unemployment Insurance, Medicare coverage, and federal tax decisions resulted in $8.6 million in new federal revenue for the Commonwealth. An additional $11.6 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 $13.5 million in services that it would have otherwise provided if not for civil legal aid: emergency shelter, foster care, and medical costs related to domestic violence. All told, the state’s $15 million investment in civil legal aid last year yielded at least $33.7 million in savings or new revenue for the state.

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 had requested a $10 million increase in the state’s investment in civil legal aid, from $15 million to $25 million .

The request for a significant increase to MLAC’s budget appropriation stems from a recommendation by the Statewide Task Force to Expand Civil Legal Aid in Massachusetts, which determined that civil legal aid is unavailable to the majority of qualified residents who seek it. The Task Force’s comprehensive report, issued in 2014, called for an additional state investment of $30 million in civil legal aid in Massachusetts, beginning with a $10 million 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.

With great consideration given to the fiscal challenges faced by the state, Representative Ruth Balser will file an amendment to increase the House Ways & Means recommendation by $5 million, for a total appropriation of $22 million, as the House budget is debated. Though less than MLAC’s original budget request, this funding increase would be an important first step in addressing the significant unmet need among those who are eligible for and seek civil legal aid. Eligible residents are those with incomes below 125 percent of the federal poverty level, or $583 per week for a family of four.

“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.”

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. For more information, visit www.mlac.org.

MLAC statement on Gov. Baker’s FY16 budget, which provides level funding for civil legal aid

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

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.”

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. For more information, visit www.mlac.org.

MLAC Statement on Massachusetts House Leadership Appointments

Statement by Lonnie A. Powers, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation on Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo’s Leadership Appointments

BOSTON, March 3, 2015 — “We applaud Speaker DeLeo’s well-chosen leadership appointments, and congratulate the House committee leaders on their new positions. Our partnership with the legislature is vital to the success of civil legal aid programs in the Commonwealth, which provide critical support to low-income individuals and families facing issues related to housing, employment, education, health care, and domestic violence, among others. We would like to congratulate Representative John Fernandes, especially, on his appointment as Chair of the Judiciary Committee. Representative Fernandes served on the Boston Bar Association’s Statewide Task Force to Expand Civil Legal Aid in Massachusetts, which issued a groundbreaking report last fall on the state of civil legal aid in Massachusetts. We look forward to continued collaboration with Representative Fernandes as we work to increase funding for civil legal aid and fight for access to justice for all in the Commonwealth.”

Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation applauds new report calling for additional state funding for civil legal aid services

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

Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation Applauds New Report Calling for Additional State Funding for Civil Legal Aid Services

The need in Massachusetts is great; even with increased funding, demand goes unmet

BOSTON, October 15, 2014―The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) today praised a new report by the Statewide Task Force to Expand Civil Legal Aid in Massachusetts finding that most low-income Massachusetts residents who need assistance with civil legal aid matters are unable to obtain it. The report calls 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 to best meet unmet civil legal aid needs.

“We who work in civil legal aid have long known that demand for services dramatically outstrips supply. This gap in justice affects our entire state, and is fueling a burgeoning crisis in our courts,” said Lonnie Powers, MLAC’s executive director, who also served on Statewide Task Force to Expand Civil Legal Aid in Massachusetts. “Civil legal aid services are life-saving for people who have nowhere else to turn when faced with critical civil legal matters, including domestic violence, eviction, illegal dismissal from employment, and child custody issues. A well-functioning judiciary and a strong civil legal aid system are vital for ensuring that the most vulnerable among us have access to justice. The increased investment called for in this report is a much-needed first step to ensuring that access to justice in Massachusetts is not based on how much money you make.”

Despite a state funding increase last fiscal year from the Massachusetts Legislature, overall funding for civil legal aid in Massachusetts has declined in recent years. The Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts program (IOLTA), historically the largest source of revenue for civil legal aid in Massachusetts, provided MLAC less than $4 million in FY14, down from a peak of $17 million in FY08. This decline has forced civil legal aid organizations, which dedicate the vast majority of their budgets to providing direct client service, to lay off attorneys and paralegals, institute furloughs and leave positions unfilled. Perhaps most damaging, this growing funding gap forces these organizations to turn away increasing numbers of eligible clients in dire need of civil legal aid services, estimated by the Task Force to be as high as 64 percent of eligible low-income people in 2013.

The report by the Statewide Task Force to Expand Civil Legal Aid in Massachusetts found that investment in civil legal aid could lead to substantial savings for the Commonwealth. Civil legal aid programs help clients access improperly denied benefits, and can attract additional federal dollars to the state. They can also save the state in avoided costs. For instance, families who are able to retain their housing with civil legal assistance are able to stay out of homeless shelters and avoid costs related to those services.

“This report has assessed the impact of civil legal aid and the need for it in Massachusetts in new ways. The case for increased investment in civil legal aid is compelling, and we hope this report spurs a much-needed public conversation around increasing access to justice for all our residents and swift action by the Massachusetts Legislature to invest critically needed state funding which is a proven economic benefit to our Commonwealth and the residents we serve,” Powers added.

The full report of the Statewide Task Force to Expand Civil Legal Aid in Massachusetts is available here.

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. For more information, visit www.mlac.org.

Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation Board Welcomes Appointment of Two New Members, Re-Appointment of Former Chair

Gonzalez and Wilson Appointed by Supreme Judicial Court, Hall Reappointed to Second Term

BOSTON, October 10, 2014 – The board of directors of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC), the largest funding source for civil legal aid in the Commonwealth, welcomes two new members, Dr. Guillermo Gonzalez and Geoffrey A. Wilson, who were recently appointed by the Supreme Judicial Court. Read more

Massachusetts Legislature Provides $15 Million for Civil Legal Aid

Increased Funding Will Boost Struggling Legal Aid Providers

BOSTON, June 30, 2014 – The Massachusetts Senate and House of Representatives voted today to approve a budget recommendation for fiscal year 2015, which includes an appropriation of $15 million for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC), the Commonwealth’s largest single funding source for civil legal aid to low income families and individuals. Read more

Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation Applauds New Report Calling for Additional State Funding for Civil Legal Aid Services

The need in Massachusetts is great; even with increased funding, demand goes unmet

BOSTON, October 15, 2014―The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) today praised a new report by the Statewide Task Force to Expand Civil Legal Aid in Massachusetts finding that most low-income Massachusetts residents who need assistance with civil legal aid matters are unable to obtain it. Read more

Offering No Increase, House Ways & Means Committee Proposes $13 Million in Funding for Civil Legal Aid in Fiscal Year 2015

BOSTON (April 9, 2014) – The House Ways & Means Committee recommended $13 million for civil legal aid funding in their Fiscal Year 2015 budget issued today. Read more

Statement by Lonnie A. Powers, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation on Efforts to Reduce Domestic Violence in Massachusetts

BOSTON, April 3, 2014 — “We are heartened by the efforts of state leaders to strengthen the systems we have in place in Massachusetts to assist victims of domestic violence. Read more

New report Shows Civil Legal Aid Generates Millions in New Revenue and Cost Savings for Massachusetts

BOSTON, January 23, 2014 – Massachusetts civil aid programs generated an estimated $29 million in new revenue and cost savings for the Commonwealth in the fiscal year that ended at the end of June 2013, according to a new report by the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC). Read more