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Research Report

A Call to End Federal Restrictions on Legal Aid for the Poor

  • Rebekah Diller
  • Emily Savner
Published: June 22, 2009

Created thirty-five years ago under President Nixon, the Legal Services Corporation (“LSC”) helps poor families obtain access to the courts when they face pressing civil legal matters.  More than 900,000 people are helped each year by the lawyers in LSC-funded programs across the country.  With LSC-funded lawyers at their side, people can obtain protection from abusive spouses, retain custody of their children, fight unlawful employment practices and even save their homes from foreclosure.  But a set of federal funding restrictions is severely undercutting this important work, and doing so in the midst of an unprecedented national financial crisis.  The time has come to eliminate the most severe of the LSC funding restrictions.

A sign of the program’s success in representing poor people, LSC came under attack in the mid-1990's as part of the extraordinary conservative backlash that, at one point, led to the shutdown of the federal government.  Not only was the federal government’s funding of LSC cut by one-third, but also an onerous set of restrictions was imposed on the independent non-profit organizations that receive LSC funding.  The funding cuts, and the funding restrictions, had devastating effects.  They left LSC seriously underfunded and sharply circumscribed.