Rep. Ruth Balser files amendment to House Ways & Means budget for $1.5M funding increase
BOSTON, April 12, 2019—Massachusetts Rep. Ruth Balser has filed an amendment to increase civil legal aid funding by $1.5 million, for total funding of $24 million in the House budget.
The House Ways and Means budget recommendation includes $22.5 million in funding for civil legal aid. That’s an increase of $1.5 million over FY19, but falls short of the $26 million in civil legal aid funding requested by the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) for FY20.
“Civil legal aid lawyers represent the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable people in times of extraordinary crises, such as when they are seeking to retain their housing, protection from domestic violence, or access to medical treatment,” said Lynne Parker, executive director of MLAC. “I’m grateful that the House Ways and Means Committee recognized the crucial role civil legal aid plays in promoting equal access to justice for low-income people by providing a $1.5 million increase in funding. However, given the sizable unmet need for civil legal services, we support Rep. Balser’s amendment to seek additional funding to serve more people in need.”
Due to lack of funding, legal aid organizations in Massachusetts are forced to turn away the majority of eligible residents who seek help each year. Eligible residents are those with incomes at or below 125 percent of the poverty level, or $32,188 per year for a family of four.
Civil legal aid organizations funded by MLAC closed more than 22,000 cases in FY18, benefitting more than 95,000 clients and their family members. These cases also produced more than $60 million in economic benefits for the Commonwealth and its residents. These benefits were the direct result of civil legal services that helped to: reduce evictions and prevent homelessness; recover and secure public benefits; and gain employment authorization for immigrants, in addition to other benefits. (Read more about the report here.)
“When a person’s most basic needs are at risk, access to legal advice and representation is essential,” Parker said. “We applaud Rep. Balser’s amendment and urge other representatives to join her to help assure equal access to justice for all people.”
The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation line item is 0321-1600.
About MLAC: The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation is the largest funding source for civil legal aid in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It 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.