On Monday, President Obama released his budget for Fiscal Year 2013. The $3.8 trillion budget included $402 million for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) – which is a 15% increase over LSC’s current budget of $348 million. While any increase can be viewed as good news, President Obama’s plan provides $68 million less than the LSC budget request of $470 million for FY 2013. As we’ve written about before in Issue Spot, Massachusetts has four LSC-funded programs: the Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association, the Massachusetts Justice Project, Merrimack Valley North Shore Legal Services and the New Center for Legal Advocacy. These programs provide essential services to some of the most vulnerable people in society.
LSC funding was approximately $404 million in FY 2011 before falling to $348 million last year. According to the LSC press release sent out on Monday, that drop has resulted in attorney layoffs at legal services programs across the country and the closure or projected closure of 18% of LSC-funded programs.
How is the BBA helping? As part of our commitment to LSC, we participate in a grassroots legislative advocacy effort coordinated by the American Bar Association (ABA). We’ve been doing this since 2002 when the BBA Council voted to join the ABA in advocating on behalf of civil legal services provided through the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) funding.
When the ABA approached the BBA to get involved, Senator Edward Kennedy – a leading advocate for the creation of LSC back in the 1970’s – and Senator John Kerry were already very involved in this issue. The ABA hoped to get enough support in the Senate to help build a broad based coalition in the House during the final budget deliberation. Since then, the BBA has joined with the ABA and other bar leaders in lobbying efforts for LSC funding every year. In April, we will travel to Washington D.C. again to take part in ABA Day. We will spend time with our congressional delegation discussing the importance of civil legal aid.
In most cases, we will be thanking our delegation for their continued support of legal services and describe the current state of civil legal services in Massachusetts. We’ll also ask them to make funding for LSC a priority and discuss it with their colleagues who may not hold support for civil legal aid in the same regard. Being from Massachusetts, we’re often told how different our experience is from our bar colleagues in other parts of the United States. There isn’t always a shared appreciation between the bar and members of Congress for the need for funding for civil legal services. Even though the BBA’s job may be comparatively easier, it’s just as critical that we are there in person delivering the important message to our delegation. This year we will ask our delegation to support a 35% increase to bring LSC funding to the requested level of $470 million.
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association