The federal budget proposal released this morning by the President includes a complete defunding of the Legal Services Corporation. A mere 0.0001% of the overall federal budget, LSC funds the majority of civil legal aid agencies across the country. LSC funding is 46% of LAF’s budget. The budget proposal also includes the elimination of the AmeriCorps program, the Community Development Block Grant program, and several Department of Justice grants that fund LAF’s work with people living in poverty in our community. These cuts would be devastating to LAF and its clients across Chicagoland, so your contributions are more important than ever now.
The Legal Services Corporation, set up much like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (also eliminated in this budget proposal), is a nonprofit organization that distributes federal funding to grantees in every state and territory of the United States, to provide professional legal aid, at no cost, to people facing real emergencies. LAF got its start more than 50 years ago with funding from LSC’s predecessors to “provide equal access to the system of justice in our nation.” “Our aim,” President Lyndon Johnson declared, “is not only to relieve the symptoms of poverty, but to cure it, and above all, to prevent it.”
The staff, Board, and family of LAF and I remain committed to that aim. We continue to believe that civil legal aid is the single most effective tool to combat poverty and bring families out of poverty for good. Without LSC and the other funding eliminated under the proposed budget, there will be more families made homeless by illegal evictions and unfair foreclosures, more victims of abuse and trafficking trapped in dangerous situations, more children denied special education services, more people denied healthcare and the public benefits to which they are entitled, more seniors taken advantage of by scheming contractors, more veterans whose service has cost them their health or their homes, and more immigrants without access to a fair shot at the American Dream. Without LSC, there will be many more people living in poverty denied their right to justice in the American court system.
I cannot say what LAF would look like without the funding and guidance from LSC and these other funding sources, but we will work to develop a plan if this budget is passed by Congress. Even with our other generous funders, no organization can absorb a cut of nearly half without having a smaller staff serving fewer clients. But LAF will not be shuttered by this. We are dedicated to our mission, our city, our clients, our practice, and the ideal that justice, fairness, equality, and representation should not depend on a person’s ability to pay. With your ongoing and increased financial support, LAF will remain the source of the best legal help money can’t buy.