BOSTON (January 22, 2014) – Governor Deval Patrick recommended an increase in funding of $1 million today for civil legal assistance to low-income residents of Massachusetts. This would bring the total annual state allocation for civil legal aid to $14 million. The Governor’s recommendation acknowledges that civil legal aid is a sound investment for the Commonwealth. It would provide a much-needed boost to legal aid programs, whose other funding sources have been drastically reduced, but it falls short of the $17 million necessary to help prevent some programs from having to lay off staff and eliminate services next year.
The funds would go to the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation line item (MLAC, 0321-1600) in the FY15 budget. MLAC is the largest source of funding for civil legal aid in the Commonwealth; the organization makes grants to 16 civil legal aid programs across the state.
“We applaud Gov. Patrick for making a strong statement that civil legal aid is necessary to protect the rights of our most vulnerable residents,” said Lonnie Powers, MLAC’s executive director. “Low-income people in Massachusetts deserve access to the legal help they need in order to overcome barriers to employment, education, quality healthcare and safe housing.”
Civil legal aid programs have been struggling to meet demand for services. The Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (IOLTA) program, the other major funding source for civil legal aid after the state allocation, is expected to provide less than $3 million to MLAC in FY2014, an 85 percent drop from FY2008. As a result, MLAC has been forced to cut grants to the 16 legal aid programs it funds even as the number of individuals and families eligible for civil legal aid continues to increase.
“Without access to legal advice and representation in civil matters, our Constitution’s promise of justice for all goes unfulfilled,” said Rahsaan Hall, chair of the MLAC board of directors. “An increased investment in civil legal aid will help stabilize the finances of organizations around the state that are providing life-saving legal services for those who otherwise cannot afford them. In the process, they are ensuring that our most vulnerable residents have access to justice.”
In a report to be released on Thursday, January 23, MLAC will show that in FY13, new revenue for legal aid clients and cost savings to the Commonwealth won by MLAC-funded legal aid programs totaled an estimated $28 million, of which $11 million was in the form of new federal revenue.