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Statement of Chicago Bar Association and Illinois State Bar Association on proposed elimination of Legal Services Corporation

The Trump Administration’s budget released yesterday proposes to completely eliminate all federal funding for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC).

This is not in the best interests of the American people and those in need who qualify for legal aid services. Millions of Americans depend on LSC-funded legal representation, including survivors of domestic violence, veterans often struggling with economic and mental health issues after returning home from combat, people displaced by disasters, the elderly, people with disabilities who have been financially exploited and abused, and many other vulnerable Americans.

Last year, more than 67,000 Illinois residents—nearly half of them children—were helped by the three Illinois programs funded by LSC in civil legal cases that included family, housing, and consumer issues. Without LSC funding, the services of such well-respected organizations as the Land of Legal Assistance Foundation, Prairie State Legal Services, and the Legal Assistance Fund would be in jeopardy. Central to American legal and cultural values is the belief that all people should have access to the justice system, regardless of personal financial circumstances.

Since 1981, the number of Americans eligible for legal aid has increased by more than 50 percent to a record of more than 60 million people. Yet now, when adjusted for inflation, Congress allocates 50 percent less in funding for LSC than it did in 1981. Therefore, more than half of people in need of legal aid are turned away due to a lack of resources.

While Illinois lawyers generously donate to legal aid each year, these voluntary efforts can never replace proper funding from Congress, which is provided so that access to the judicial system, the third branch of government, remains for all Americans, a fundamental right enshrined in American democracy.

Funding of the LSC ensures that Americans have access to justice, thus fulfilling a fundamental principle of American government embodied in the words carved into the U.S. Supreme Court Building: “Equal Justice Under Law.”

Posted on March 17, 2017 by Mark S. Mathewson