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Bar Association opposes Legal Services Corporation funding cut

The Monroe County Bar Association has announced its opposition to a federal budget proposal to eliminate the Legal Services Corporation (LSC).

The independent nonprofit LSC was established by Congress in 1974 to provide financial support for civil legal services to low-income Americans. LSC is the largest source of funding for civil legal services in the United States, distributing more than 93 percent of its federal appropriations to eligible nonprofits that deliver civil legal services to the poor, according to a Bar Association news release.

The eligible nonprofits provide legal assistance in non-criminal cases to people who live in households with annual incomes at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, which includes about 65 million people. Loss of LSC funding will cripple civil legal services and have a devastating effect on the lives of those 65 million U.S. citizens, according to the Bar Association.

One local recipient of LSC funds is Legal Assistance of Western New York (LAWNY), which serves 14 counties including Monroe. LAWNY currently receives an annual basic field grant of  $1.7 million from LSC in addition to funds from LSC to support pro bono and technology initiatives. Last year, the Rochester office of LAWNY used $704,260 (about half of the grant) to assist clients unable to afford legal help in about 5,000 cases, according to the Bar.

“Loss of funding will decimate the level of services provided to low-income clients needing help with issues regarding government benefits (including veterans’ benefits), employment, housing, access to healthcare, landlord-tenant law, elder law, and disability law,” Bar officials said.

Some of the LAWNY funding also funds support programs such as the Volunteer Legal Services Project (VLSP). If Congress eliminates funding for the Legal Services Corporation, VLSP will lose about $70,000 in funding, which will, in turn, forfeit the 4,800 to 5,600 attorney hours that are donated annually to the VLSP program, according to Bar officials.

“We urge Congress to maintain funding for civil legal services and to reject proposals to defund in any amount the Legal Services Corporation,” the Bar Association said in the release.

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