On September 24, the White House announced the establishment of the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable. President Barack Obama released a statement including a six-part plan to make the justice system more accessible by people living in poverty in the United States.
The president believes that by making legal aid a part of existing federal programs, we can help more people more effectively and more efficiently. “By encouraging Federal departments and agencies to collaborate, share best practices, and consider the impact of legal services on the success of their programs,” he explains, “the Federal Government can enhance access to justice in our communities.”
The White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable, which will be referred to as LAIR, will be led by the U.S. Attorney General the Director of the Domestic Policy Council, and others they designate with the responsibility. It will include members from at least 17 different federal departments, offices, and agencies, including the Corporation for National and Community Service, the Department of Homeland Security, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission, Legal Services Corporation, and Social Security Administration. The Department of Justice will be responsible for supplying the resources needed for this initiative to be successful.
LAIR will work with existing federal programs that are serving impoverished communities so they can properly implement legal aid into these programs. Their involvement and research within these programs will “increase the availability of meaningful access to justice for individuals and families, regardless of wealth or status.” They will meet at least three times a year and work with individuals nationwide on multiple levels of government.
In a world where legal aid is often ignored in the social services conversation, the efforts of President Obama and LAIR can only open doors to bring national awareness to this issue. At LAF, we see the importance of working together to bring change, through our medical-legal partnerships and our ongoing pro bono projects. Helping people achieve the justice they deserve will help us lift Americans out of poverty, and ensure them a permanent solution to a better life.
Much of the political rhetoric surrounding poverty focuses on blaming the poor for their situation, and chides them for their lack of self-control. It often argues that if people living in poverty had better self-control, they could plan for the future and improve their lives. A recent article published by New Republic sheds some light on these preconceived notions and compiles research to push back against those stereotypes.
The article shows that people living in poverty often don’t have access to the resources necessary to address issues beyond their most immediate needs. It also argues that the “permanent now” that poverty traps people in prevents long-term planning more than poor self-control does. In summary:
“The science suggests that poverty has powerful harmful effects on people, and helps explain why it’s so hard to escape. Their choices are much more a product of their situation, rather than a lack of self-control.”
You can read the whole article here, and you can learn more about the sort of difficult decisions that people living in poverty face at a new training presented by our Young Professionals Board for this year’s Pro Bono Week. “Tight Budgets & Tough Choices: Poverty, Decisions, and Why Legal Aid Matters” will be led by Allicia L. Aiken and sponsored by Barack Ferrazzano Kirschbaum & Nagelberg LLP. The training will demonstrate the tough choices the poorest people in our community face in their daily lives, and highlight how legal aid can prevent or even remove the obstacles that keep people stuck in poverty. The training is free, but requires advance registration, and will take place at by Barack Ferrazzano, on the 39th floor of 200 W. Madison St., from 5:30-7:30pm on Wednesday October 28th. Register for that training here.