by Noor Khan, PBI Intern
For the sixth year in a row, legal department leaders are speaking out to support increased funding of the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), the largest funder of civil legal aid in the United States.
Pro Bono Institute® (PBI®) and its global in-house project, Corporate Pro Bono® (CPBO®), worked in partnership with the National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA) to invite General Counsel and Chief Legal Officers to sign a letter asking Congress to approve $700 million in funding for LSC for Fiscal Year 2023.
A notable group of 162 GCs and CLOs signed a letter of support for increased funding for LSC FY2023, which was delivered to Congress on May 17, 2022. Joining in this effort were corporations and legal departments from a vast range of sectors, industries, sizes, and locations. Beyond the GC and CLO signatories, this matter has garnered attention and support from other organizations and news outlets, urging Congress to increase LSC funding. However, the support of the business community is especially critical to demonstrate that access to legal services is necessary to ensure healthy communities, sound institutions, and rule of law.
In a time where 92% of low-income Americans do not receive legal help for their substantive legal issues, often due to a shortage of legal aid lawyers, LSC-funded legal services organizations provide critical civil legal assistance to families across the country. LSC provides resources and financial support to 132 legal aid organizations that serve individuals and communities in need, as well as resources for pro bono volunteers from law firms and legal departments. Despite the tremendous need for legal services and the inequities in accessing justice, LSC has been routinely underfunded and under-resourced.
Historically, the support of American corporate leaders has proved to have a positive impact on the allocation of funds for LSC. Between FY2021 and FY2022, LSC saw an increase of $24 million in funding. Congress allocated an additional $50 million in supplementary emergency funding in light of the difficulties raised by Covid-19 pandemic.
However, this is still not enough. According to the LSC’s 2022 Justice Gap Report, LSC-funded organizations are unable to provide any or enough legal help for 71% of the civil legal problems brought to them; this translates to an estimated 1.4 million problems over the course of a year.
In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, the problem of insufficient legal aid has become more acute, making the continued support of LSC’s efforts more important than ever. Just this past year, one third of low-income Americans suffered from legal issues linked to the Covid-19 pandemic. The top reported areas of legal were housing, health care, personal safety, and consumer problems; those most likely to experience a pandemic-related problem were from households with children, single parents, and those struggling with substance abuse. Yet, only 19% of Americans near or below the poverty line sought help for their legal issues, listing cost as one of the top barriers. The pandemic has only made the situation more critical.
For FY2023, LSC has requested $1.26 billion in funding, which is $245 million more than last year’s request. This increase will enable LSC to achieve two goals: 1) to reduce the justice gap by 75% and 2) to increase their Basic Field Grants by 70% to account for the Covid-19 pandemic.
CPBO is proud to support this effort to secure funding for LSC and thanks the GCs and CLOs for demonstrating their commitment to legal aid, access to justice, and pro bono legal services. For more information, please contact CPBO at firstname.lastname@example.org.