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Even the traditional allies of the Legal Services Corp. are supporting a cut this year. The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee today voted in favor of a plan that would cut funding for the corporation by 2%. Democrats, who have a majority in the Senate, have often proposed boosting civil legal aid for the poor, but the plan comes amid heavy pressure to reduce overall federal spending. The committee vote was 29-1. Still, the proposed cut is less severe than what the Republican-controlled House proposed in July. Lawmakers on that side of the Capitol voted for a plan that would cut Legal Services Corp. funding 26%. The legislation addresses funding for fiscal year 2012, which begins Oct. 1. Because House and Senate members are unlikely to come to an agreement on many spending bills during the next two weeks, it’s likely that a temporary funding measure will pay for the Legal Services Corp. and many other programs in the short term. The measure may continue current funding levels. The Legal Services Corp. is the largest source of money for civil legal aid nationwide. The organization receives an annual appropriation from Congress and distributes grants to more than 130 local groups. In March, as Congress considered steep cuts to the corporation, The National Law Journal reported on the potential effects of reduced funding. Typical clients of civil legal aid groups include those facing eviction and domestic abuse, and their needs have grown during the economic downturn. During a brief debate, senators today did not specifically address the funding level for the Legal Services Corp., focusing instead on parts of the same legislation that affect, for example, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Legal Services Corp. is receiving $404 million this year, and the Senate plan would cut $8 million. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), the lone dissenting vote, wanted deeper cuts in the broad spending measure. In a statement anticipating the vote, Sidley Austin partner John Levi, chairman of the Legal Services Corp. board, expressed worry. “I am very concerned that reductions in LSC funding will further erode access to justice for low-income citizens, especially those whose safety and security might be at risk,” he said. “I look forward to working with the House and the Senate on how we can fulfill our nation’s promise of equal justice for all.” David Ingram can be contacted at [email protected].

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