Free legal aid may be eliminated if the budget that is proposed by the Republican administration goes through. The federal government, led by Donald Trump, wants to eliminate all of the funding that goes to the Legal Services Corporation, which would in effect end that program as we know it.
Now this is a nationwide agency that works with local non-profits and lawyers, and the grant money helps pay for assistance programs in all 50 states. There are in fact over one hundred non-profits that rely on LSC (so in effect the federal government) for the money to provide their services. Firms such as Lone Star Legal Aid in Texas, Central California Legal Services, Florida Legal Services, and dozens of others use government grant money. There are 133 different local firms that are provided grant money from LSC and over 1.5 million people benefit from their service each year.
But those 133 firms just do not solely rely on LSC as the firms also have volunteer attorneys, raise their own money locally from fund-raisers, and have volunteer staff members that all help out. This means they are doing their part as well to stay funded. They are in no way “taking advantage” of the government as they do their part as well to operate.
Why the proposed 2019 budget cut to LSC?
The Republican White House wants to eliminate the organization effective 2019 as they say there is waste and fraud in it. They would also like non-profits, business groups, more civic minded volunteers attorneys at the local level, and others to provide free advice to the low income instead of the federal government helping to pay for it.
Now the federal government is pointing to fraud and waste for their reason for stopping funding to the Legal Services Corporation in their 2019 proposed budget. So you may ask, how much waste is there? Back in 2017 the Office of Inspector General (OIG) completed an audit, and they found under $20,000 is wasteful spending on travel, musical entertainment, and a few other questionable expenses.
Now while every dollar in waste is of course too much, it seems ludicrous that a government agency that provides help to the poor and elderly would be eliminated to due 20K in waste. They also support veterans the disabled, homeless, and the most vulnerable among us. It is crazy to end that for 20K in waste. Look at the recent Ben Carson story (secretary of HUD) who tried to spend $31,000 on dining room furniture. Where is the accountability for that abuse of money?
For those people that do not know what LSC does, it helps the very low income, poor, and indigent get access to an attorney at no cost to them. It also assists senior citizens regardless of their income. The help prevent predatory lending, address housing discrimination, ensure immigrants are not discriminated against for financial or housing matters, and they do much more. Find more on free help from lawyers.
The organization received $385 million in the 2018 budget, which is not much when considering the government spends 3.7 trillion dollars per year…in fact $385 million is a “rounding error:. The White House basically set a budget of zero dollars for this organization for 2019, which would shut it down or eliminate it.
While time will tell what happens here as the 2019 budget is still not finalized, defunding free legal aid for the less fortunate would be a big blow.