The nation’s providers of civil legal assistance predict that funding cuts will leave them no choice this year but to lay off about 8 percent of lawyers and support staff, close branch offices and narrow the types of services they provide, Legal Services Corp. announced on August 15.
A survey of the 134 agencies depending on grants from LSC, the largest source of funding nationwide for civil legal aid, shows they are on pace to lay off 350 attorneys and 400 support staff this year because of budget cuts from Congress and other funding reductions.
The survey found 87 percent of the agencies reported “significant decreases” in their total funding from 2011, both from Congress and reduced funding from other sources such as Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts, known as IOLTA funding.
The agencies expect to serve fewer clients and accept fewer cases than last year, and nearly three out of every four programs will narrow the types of cases they handle. For example, almost a third of agencies expect this year to cut back services on foreclosure-related issues and services to victims of domestic violence.
About one of every six programs expects to close offices in 2012. Of programs that have reserves, the vast majority plan to raid those funds this year to continue operations.
Overall, the layoffs would reflect about an 8 percent reduction in staffing levels from the end of 2011. Over the two-year period from 2010 to 2012, LSC-funded programs expect to lose 14 percent of their staff, including 591 attorneys (a 13 percent reduction) and 818 paralegals and other support staff.
LSC conducted the survey at the mid-point of 2012 as part of the early information-gathering for the 2014 budgeting process, LSC President James Sandman said. “It’s generally consistent with results of survey six months earlier,” he said.
Agencies are reeling this year after a cut from 2011 to 2012 equal to 17 percent of their annual funding from Washington. At the same time, high unemployment rates have increased the number of people needing help. Each state has different ways to add other funding to the programs, so each agency varies in the severity of the cuts from Congress.
Right now, there appears to be more bad news from Congress for the 2013 budget. This year, the Republican-led House has passed a bill that would cut another 6 percent from the agency’s current budget. The House proposal of $328 million, when adjusted for inflation, would be an all-time low for the 38-year-old organization, according to a recent report from the Conference of Chief Justices.
The Democratic-led Senate Appropriations Committee approved the full amount of President Barack Obama’s 2013 budget request for the LSC at $402 million. That would be a 16 percent increase from the 2012 budget of $348 million, and would return funding to 2011 levels.
The two chambers are expected to hash out a deal sometime before the end of the year.
Todd Ruger can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.