On January 22, Governor Charlie Baker released his budget plan for Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21), which begins on July 1. The BBA had sent him a letter outlining our four budget priorities for the year, and the results were mixed:
- For the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC), the state’s largest provider of funds for legal services, the BBA and other supporters of civil legal aid are seeking an increase of $5 million, to build on the gains that have been achieved in recent years and to continue to chip away at the turn-away rates that have remained too high due to stubbornly increasing demand. The Governor’s plan (also known as H. 2) would instead offer the same $24 million as in the current fiscal year, so it falls to us and our fellow advocates to continue to make the case to the Legislature again this year as to why this appropriation is so important for access to justice. (See also our recap on Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid.)
- If the court system has a natural constituency to advocate for adequate funding of their operations, it would have to be the bar. That’s why we will always make the Trial Court’s appropriations a priority. This year, they are seeking $771.5 million to maintain their current level of performance, but H. 2 falls a bit short of that, offering $750.9 million. Again, we will be working to convince legislators to make up that shortfall.
- The Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) is the state’s public-defender agency, handling criminal defense and other representation for indigent litigants, through both staff attorneys and private bar counsel. Their line-item would be funded at $261.5 million under H. 2, or about $4 million short of their need. The plan also does not provide for a much-needed increase in the hourly rates paid to private counsel.
- Finally, the BBA has endorsed a recently-created grant program to fund community-based residential re-entry programs for formerly incarcerated individuals, to provide for health care, housing, employment, and substance-abuse treatment, and thereby reduce recidivism and overdose rates. The $6.3 million in H. 2 would continue the program at its current scale, though we support the Trial Court’s request of $9.6M, which would allow for expansion into new regions.
The budget is now in the hands of the Legislature, where hearings will be held the next couple of months, and then the House Ways & Means Committee will release their own plan in April, followed by the Senate’s turn in May. The final budget likely won’t be enacted until July, but we will keep you posted here (and with e-mail updates and alerts).
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association