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Less than one in 10 legal needs of the state’s low-income population are unmet by various legal aid services in Massachusetts, according to a study released Wednesday by the Beacon Hill Institute for Public Policy Research at Suffolk University. The report, released the same day when more than 100 attorneys participated in a lobbying effort to increase funding for legal aid to the poor, asks state lawmakers to commission a new survey to assess unmet legal needs among Massachusetts poor before approving funding increases for such services. The report, “Just Services: Balancing the Scales of Legal Services Funding in Massachusetts,” also recommends enhanced state oversight of current legal services funding in the state. It asks that state lawmakers impose funding guidelines on the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation similar to federal guidelines adopted in 1996 that prohibited the Legal Services Corporation from supporting class-action lawsuits and lobbying efforts. POINT, COUNTERPOINT The study goes on at length to debunk claims by MLAC that three out of every five requests to legal service agencies goes unfulfilled. MLAC, with current state funding of $7.5 million, has asked for an additional $18 million over the next three years to provide more legal aid to the poor. “Our analysis concluded that relatively few low-income citizens with actionable legal grievances in Massachusetts are going without legal assistance,” stated David G. Tuerck, chairman of the Suffolk University Department of Economics who heads BHI. “The Commonwealth already offers a wide array of free and readily-available legal options for low-income residents. More people could be helped if the Commonwealth used existing resources more effectively.” The conservative think tank criticizes MLAC’s survey of legal service programs for not screening individuals for legal aid eligibility and for not excluding duplicate calls made to agencies by the same caller with the same problem. In addition, the study contends, “There is the presumption that every need requires a lawyer, ignoring the wide array of free alternative resources available, particularly from government.”

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