Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corp. Thanks House Ways & Means Committee for Budget Recommendation for Civil Legal Aid
BOSTON, April 13, 2016― The House Ways & Means Committee recommended $18 million for civil legal aid funding in its Fiscal Year 2017 budget issued today, an increase of $1 million over FY16. This recommendation is a positive step in the direction of the $10 million increase in civil legal aid funding sought by the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC). 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 the full $10 million increase, for a total appropriation of $27 million.
“We appreciate the increase included in the House Ways and Means Committee budget recommendations, and we applaud efforts by House leaders to align public spending with effective, successful programs such as civil legal aid. Our 14 community-based programs across Massachusetts assist low-income people seeking to resolve civil legal 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,” said Lonnie Powers, executive director of MLAC. “Additionally, civil legal aid yields significant economic returns for our clients and the state.”
This past February, MLAC released its annual Economic Benefits Report, which showed that civil legal aid assistance provided by MLAC-funded programs in fiscal year 2015 yielded at least $35.1 million in savings or new revenue for the state.
Successful representation in appeals to Social Security Insurance, Social Security Disability Insurance, Unemployment Insurance, Medicare coverage, and federal tax decisions resulted in $13.5 million in new federal revenue for the Commonwealth. An additional $9.9 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 $11.6 million in services that it would have otherwise provided if not for civil legal aid. These services include emergency shelter, foster care, and medical costs related to domestic violence.
The request for a $10 million increase in civil legal aid funding is based on a recommendation by the Boston Bar Association’s Statewide Task Force to Expand Civil Legal Aid in Massachusetts, which issued a report in 2014 that found that more than 60 percent of those eligible for civil legal aid are turned away due to a lack of resources. The report called for an additional state investment of $30 million in civil legal aid in Massachusetts, to be implemented in $10 million increments over three years.
Representative Ruth Balser will file an amendment to increase the House Ways & Means recommendation by $9 million, for a total appropriation of $27 million, as the House budget is debated. This funding increase would be an important 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 $584 per week for a family of four.
“Legal aid organizations serve our most vulnerable residents, and we must ensure that these programs have the resources they need,” said Marijane Benner Browne, chair of the MLAC Board of Directors. “Access to legal advice and representation should not be dependent on income. As we move forward, we must do everything we can to make equitable access to justice a reality in the Commonwealth.”
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.