BOSTON, May 10, 2018―In its FY19 budget, released today, the Senate Ways & Means Committee recommended funding civil legal aid in the Commonwealth at $19 million. This represents a $1 million increase over last year’s budget. Given the depth of unmet need for civil legal aid services among people living in poverty, the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) will continue to advocate for an additional $4 million in funding from the Senate.
“Civil legal aid funding plays a vital role in promoting equal access to justice for low-income residents of the Commonwealth and we’re pleased that the Senate Ways & Means Committee recognizes this contribution,” said Lonnie Powers, executive director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC). “Given the need for services among those seeking civil legal aid, and the significant return on investment yielded by civil legal aid funding, we will continue to advocate for increased investment by the state during the Senate floor debate.”
Currently, civil legal aid programs around the state turn away approximately 65 percent of eligible residents who seek services—nearly 45,000 people each year. To be eligible for civil legal aid, applicants must have incomes at or below 125% of the Federal Poverty Level, which is $31,375 a year for a family of four.
Earlier this year, MLAC released its annual Economic Benefits Report, which showed that civil legal assistance provided by MLAC-funded programs in fiscal year 2017 yielded at least $59.2 million in savings or new revenue for the state and its residents. Successful representation in appeals to Social Security Insurance, Social Security Disability Insurance, Unemployment Insurance, Medicare coverage, and federal tax decisions resulted in $17.6 million in new federal revenue for the Commonwealth. An additional $24.3 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 $17.2 million in services that it would have otherwise provided if not for civil legal aid, including emergency shelter, foster care, and medical costs related to domestic violence.
Senators Cynthia Creem and William Brownsberger will file an amendment to increase the Senate Ways & Means recommendation by $4 million, for a total appropriation of $23 million, as the Senate budget is debated. This funding increase would be another important step in addressing the significant unmet need among those who are eligible for and seek civil legal aid.
“Our 14 community-based programs across Massachusetts improve the health, safety, and well-being of the state by making it possible for low-income residents to access civil legal resolutions to life-changing issues related to housing, employment, and health care,” said Marijane Benner Browne, chair of the MLAC Board of Directors. “In doing this, we ultimately save millions of dollars of the state’s money and bring in millions more in federal funding. This cost-effective and efficient use of our tax dollars strengthens families and all of our communities.”
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.