WaPo Repeats Call to Lift Restrictions on LSC Funding

The Post also urged the House and Senate to come to an agreement that will increase Legal Services Corporation funding by $50 million over 2009 levels.

Tough economic times have led more poor -- and newly poor -- people to need legal help. The LSC has been grossly underfunded for years, and the amount of money it gets from private and non-federal government sources has been shrinking because of the recession. Fully funding the LSC and giving it as much flexibility as possible will help to ensure that the needy get help.

The House has approved the greater amount for the LSC -- some $440 million for the current fiscal year, up $50 million from fiscal 2009. The House also would allow legal aid lawyers to seek payment of fees if they prevail in a civil case. But representatives kept in place restrictions that prevent the group from using federal dollars in matters that deal with abortion or prisoners. Some limits on the use of federal funds may be appropriate, but it's not right for the federal government also to instruct the group on how it may and may not spend money it raises elsewhere. For example, legal aid lawyers are prohibited from using privately raised funds to launch class actions -- a tool that could help make representation of the poor more efficient and effective.

The Senate, on the other hand, has approved less money -- $400 million -- but lifted most restrictions, with the exception of those relating to abortion and prison matters, on how the LSC may use its funds. The Senate does not allow legal aid lawyers to seek fee awards in cases underwritten with taxpayer funds, but there is no such limitation on litigation funded by outside sources. Altogether, the Senate comes closer to unshackling the LSC in how it uses the roughly $500 million it gets annually from non-federal sources. 

Read the full editorial at the Washington Post's webpage. 

LSC is the single largest funder of civil legal assistance for the poor in the nation. Established by Congress in 1974, LSC operates as a private, nonprofit organization to promote equal access to justice and to ensure the provision of high-quality legal assistance to low-income Americans. Legal Services NYC is the LSC's New York City grantee.

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