Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Congress boosts Legal Services ...but not much

Last September, the Legal Services Corp., which distributes funding nationwide for civil legal representation of the poor, released a report saying about half of Americans who need civil legal assistance are not able to get it because of limited resources. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) proposed increasing the LSC's budget up to $750 million, an increase of 92.3 percent from last year, but, the 2010 spending package on its way to President Barack Obama's desk will give the LSC a much smaller boost. The LSC will receive $420 million this fiscal year, up from $390 million last year (a 7.7 percent increase). This is far less than many had hoped for--but an increase nonetheless.

On the other hand, the new appropriations bill introduces a very positive change. In 1996, President Clinton signed a bill that, among other anti-legal services provisions, barred legal services programs funded through the federal Legal Services Corporation from seeking statutory attorney fees in cases that they won or settled on behalf of their impoverished clients. This provision hurt already cash-strapped poverty law programs around the nation. The new appropriations bill will allow the agency's grant recipients to pursue attorney fees for the first time in more than a decade. Go here for more on this story.

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