This morning, hundreds of civil legal aid supporters rallied at the State House for the 21st annual Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid, in support of adequate funding for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC), the largest provider of funding for legal services programs in the state. This annual event follows on the heels of the release of the Governor’s budget recommendation and formally kicks off the BBA’s budget advocacy. Governor Baker’s plan, known as H. 2, proposed level-funding MLAC at $24 million. While disappointing, this appropriation makes it all the more important to convince legislators of the need for increased funding.
Walk to the Hill is coordinated by the Equal Justice Coalition (EJC), which is a partnership of the BBA, the MBA, and MLAC, and proves to be one of the largest advocacy events of its kind in the Commonwealth every year. With the support of the bar and our community partners, we have achieved back-to-back $3 million increases in the MLAC budget line-item for FY19 and FY20, allowing for the expansion of legal services that are essential to low-income and elderly Massachusetts residents. However, roughly half of the population eligible for legal services is still turned away. This is why we must continue to advocate to increase funding. For FY21, MLAC is requesting an additional $5 million to reach a total of $29 million.
A number of leaders of the Massachusetts legal community, including BBA President Chris Netski, spoke at today’s event to a crowd of hundreds of lawyers and law students. Chris emphasized that the “increased demands on an already overburdened system make it extremely difficult for legal services attorneys to keep pace with the flow of cases, including far too many domestic violence cases, and demonstrate why the need for aid has continued to rise, despite the generous appropriations Governor Baker and the Legislature have afforded MLAC up to this point”. She went on to tell a story of a client who, thanks to MetroWest Legal Services, was able to receive critical immigration assistance and obtain a U visa, as a victim of crime, after being sexually assaulted. President Netski concluded her remarks by saying, “Because the BBA will always champion access to justice, and because we know it’s a good investment, we continue to advocate for civil legal aid and support MLAC’s request for a $5 million increase in funding this year”.
After the remarks in the Great Hall, attendees spread out to meet with their Senators and Representatives throughout the State House, including Chris Netski, who sat down with her Lexington Rep. Michelle Ciccolo, and BBA President-Elect Marty Murphy, who met with both Sen. Nick Collins and Rep. David Biele from the Boston delegation.
If you were unable to join us today, it’s not too late to talk to advocate for civil legal aid! Participate in “Talk” to the Hill throughout the state budget process by calling your legislators. If you know the names of your senator and representative, call the State House switchboard at 617-722-2000 to be connected to their offices. You can also look up your legislators here and access their direct phone numbers and e-mail addresses. The sooner you get in touch, the better!
– Lucia Caballero
Government Relations Assistant
Boston Bar Association