Majority of House Members Support Increased Investment in Civil Legal Aid
BOSTON, April 23, 2015 – The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) announced today that a majority of representatives from every region of the state have signed on as sponsors of an amendment filed by Rep. Ruth Balser (D-Newton). The amendment would increase funding for civil legal aid in the Commonwealth by $5 million for a total appropriation of $22 million for FY16. Over 80 representatives have signed amendment number 440.
On April 15, the House Ways and Means Committee released a proposed budget for the House of Representatives that would modestly increase the state’s investment in civil legal aid by $2 million, from $15 million to $17 million. Given the great depth of unmet need among those seeking civil legal aid, however, and the significant return on investment yielded by civil legal aid funding, additional funding is needed.
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. Meanwhile, 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.
“It is encouraging to see the amount of support for Rep. Balser’s amendment calling for an increased investment in civil legal aid,” said Lonnie Powers, MLAC Executive Director. “Civil legal aid is a proven solution, both social and fiscal, to the Commonwealth’s most challenging problems. In these difficult fiscal times, the state’s allocation of resources should support programs that make the lives of our residents and communities better, and that yield a significant return on taxpayers’ investment.”
The state’s allocation for civil legal aid is disbursed by MLAC 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 domestic violence, child support and custody, and divorce.
“Equitable access to our justice system should not be out of reach for our low-income residents,” 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.”
This year’s request for an 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 to be implemented over a three-year period.
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.
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.