BOSTON, February 13, 2018—On Monday, President Donald Trump released his budget for Fiscal Year 2019, which calls for elimination of the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) and several other federal programs that provide vital safety net services to low-income people here in Massachusetts and across the United States.
LSC provides funding to civil legal aid programs in every state in the country, including Massachusetts, which received approximately $5 million this year.
“The elimination of funding for LSC, coupled with cuts to other programs that help poor and elderly residents secure food, heat, housing, employment, economic opportunity, and safe workplaces, would have devastating and long-lasting consequences on the stability of individuals, families, and communities across our state and our country,” said Lonnie Powers, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation. “Continued threats to federal funding highlight the need for robust state and local support.”
In testimony before the Joint Committee on Ways and Means today, Powers will request a $5 million increase in state funding for civil legal aid for a total appropriation of $23 million. He will also highlight the heightened need for civil legal aid due to expected reductions in safety net programs, rising uncertainty related to changes in federal immigration policies, and an influx of families fleeing hurricane damage in Puerto Rico.
“Fear and misinformation are widespread in immigrant communities and the harm experienced as a result is significant. Children are afraid to go to school, fearing that their parents will be taken away, medical appointments are postponed or avoided altogether, and victims of crime are afraid to call the police,” Powers said. “Legal aid programs are a crucial source of information and education about immigrants’ rights.”
Additionally, since the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, approximately 2,400 students who evacuated the island have moved to Massachusetts and enrolled in public schools. “Many of these families arrived here with nothing and need assistance in obtaining employment, housing, and other basic needs, and our programs are already working with some of these families,” Powers said.
In Fiscal Year 2017, the state’s $18 million investment in civil legal aid yielded $59.2 million in economic benefits and savings to the Commonwealth, including $17.7 million in new federal revenue secured for clients through work to obtain disability benefits, nutrition assistance benefits (SNAP), and Medicare coverage; $17.2 million in state savings on foster care, shelter, and health care for people who are homeless and victims of domestic violence; and $24.3 million in additional benefits secured for clients, including child support, recovered wages, and debt relief. Civil legal aid boosts the economy, making increased state funding for MLAC a fiscally responsible decision.
“Civil legal aid programs provide assistance to people with extremely low incomes of just a little more than $31,000 for a family of four, and who face complex legal problems related to housing, individual rights, employment, and education,” Powers said. “We can easily measure the economic impact of this work. But civil legal assistance also provides profound and long-lasting benefits that change lives and improves the strength and health of families and our communities. It is a wise investment with both short- and long-term benefits.”
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.