For Immediate Release
Contact: Susan Lehman, 212–998–6318
Jeanine Plant-Chirlin, 212–998–6289
David Udell, 212–998–6720
Appropriations Legislation Drafted by Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) Would Greatly Expand Access to Justice for the Poor by Repealing Key Restriction on Federally Funded Civil Legal Services
WASHINGTON- On June 25, 2009, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to lift the “LSC poison pill restriction” – the federal appropriations provision that encumbers up to $490 million in state, local, and charitable private contributions raised by legal services nonprofits that receive federal funding from the nation’s Legal Services Corporation (LSC). The bill containing the fix, championed by Sen. Mikulski (D-MD), now awaits full Senate approval and then reconciliation in Conference Committee with a House bill which did not lift the restriction.
The bill containing the fix is the annual appropriations bill for the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS) subcommittee, which provides funding to LSC in FY 2010. LSC is the federal corporation that, in turn, distributes the funding to local, independent, legal services nonprofits that provide free legal assistance to people across the country who are unable to afford to retain a private attorney to handle civil legal matters. In 1996, Congress attached numerous restrictions to the federal funding distributed by LSC, limiting the legal tools that clients of LSC-funded programs can rely on and also barring some categories of individuals from obtaining any legal assistance at all.
If enacted, the Senate’s bill would strike the most startling aspect of these restrictions, the “poison pill” restriction that imposes the full set of funding restrictions on all activities conducted by LSC nonprofits, even those entirely financed with funding raised from state government, local government, and private charitable donors. The Senate’s CJS Appropriation bill would go a long way toward increasing access to justice by enabling clients of these nonprofits to rely on the same tools available to clients of private attorneys, and by increasing efficiencies in the delivery of legal services.
“Now more than ever, low-income families need lawyers to help them save their homes from foreclosure, claim the government benefits they deserve and help solve the myriad of legal problems they face,” says Rebekah Diller, Deputy Director of the Brennan Center’s Justice Program and co-author of a recent Brennan Center report on the legal services restrictions. “We applaud Sen. Mikulski’s support for lifting the non-LSC funds restriction. Congressional approval of this policy fix is crucial to ensuring these families have the critical legal lifeline they need.”
The Senate’s bill does leave two pieces of this “non-LSC funds restriction” intact, prohibiting LSC nonprofits from using non-LSC funds for: i) representation of people in prison in civil matters, and ii) abortion-related proceedings or litigation. The bill would also appropriate $400 million in total funding for LSC in FY 2010, a $10 million increase from last year but $35 million below the President’s FY 2010 request. The bill was approved by the CJS subcommittee on June 24th.
Earlier this month, the House passed its FY 2010 appropriations legislation that includes funding for LSC, without repealing this key restriction. The House bill leaves the non-LSC funds restriction in place but does lift the restriction that prohibits attorneys at LSC-funded programs from relying on either LSC funds or non-LSC funds to seek attorneys’ fee awards. Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV), Chair of the House CJS subcommittee, drafted the House bill, which set the total funding level for LSC at $440 million.
The Obama Administration (in its FY 2010 budget, released in May) had urged Congress to lift the non-LSC funds restriction, the attorneys’ fee award restriction, and the restriction prohibiting LSC grantees from participating in class actions. In a “Statement of Administrative Policy” issued on June 16th,the administration voiced its frustration that the House had not voted to lift all three funding restrictions.
For more information, please contact Susan Lehman at 212–998–6318 or Jeanine Plant-Chirlin at 212–998–6289 or Jeanine.firstname.lastname@example.org.