Thursday, July 21, 2011

Justice for Some

Legal Services Corporation (LSC) may see their budget slashed to 1999 levels. LSC supports 126 legal aid organizations around the country. Legal Aid programs help low income folks access legal representation. At a time when more people than ever before qualify for legal assistance, under proposed budget cuts, the programs will lose 26% of their funding. These programs are already underfunded, and unable to help about half of the people who call them, because they lack resources.

From MoJo:

Already, the legal-aid nonprofits supported by the LSC are slated to lose a total of 445 staff members, including 200 lawyers, by the end of 2011, according to a survey of the groups. Last year, 63 million people—an all-time high—qualified for their help, an increase of 11 percent from the year before. "This is not the time to undercut the fundamental American commitment to equal justice for all," says Legal Services president James Sandman.

"There is never a convenient time to make tough decisions," counters Frank Wolf, chair of the House subcommittee responsible for the LSC’s budget. "But the longer we put off fixing the problem, the worse the medicine will be…The bill represents our best take on matching needs with scarce resources."

Heald says she understands the need to cut spending, but explains that legal services has a "preventive effect" that actually saves money for the states. Housing a family in a homeless shelter in Maine for just two or three weeks is five to ten times more expensive than supporting a lawyer who can help keep the family in stable housing, she says. "And that's just the cost of the shelter nights, and not the cost on all the other supportive systems a family might need."

There's a great deal of short sighted slashing going on in these budget cuts. If these program cuts are enacted, states will end up (as Ms. Heald points out) paying the pound of cure, when it would have been far cheaper to pay for the ounce of prevention.

Perhaps even worse is the damage this does to our national ideal of "justice for all." This just serves to further the cynical view (already in place) that justice is only available to the wealthy.

cross-posted at MainSt/

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