General Assembly proposes $500,000 cut to legal services funding

Earlier this week, the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Public Safety, Transportation and Environment Subcommittee eliminated $500,000 from the MLSC Fund, clouding an already dire funding dilemma for the organization that funds 38 civil legal services programs across the state (including the largest, Maryland Legal Aid).

“The result of this extraordinary loss in MLSC’s major revenue source is significant funding cuts for Maryland’s legal services providers for FY 2010,” said MLSC executive director Susan Erlichman. “In January, MLSC informed its grantees that all but core operating grants will be eliminated, and funding for core operating grants will be reduced by at least 25 percent beginning July 1, 2009.”

The proposed cut comes on the heels of a projected 70-percent decrease in revenue from the Interest on Lawyer Trust Account program (MLSC’s primary source of funding), due to unprecedented low interest rates. IOLTA revenues generated $6.7 million in 2008 and is projected to barely reach $2 million next year.

“The elimination of $500,000 from the MLSC fund will further erode our ability to fund legal aid programs, and leave thousands of additional Marylanders seeking critically needed assistance with nowhere to turn for help,” Erlichman said.

“Legal aid programs are seeing an ever-increasing number of Marylanders seeking help with foreclosure, eviction, food stamps, unemployment insurance, family matters, and other issues that have been exacerbated as a result of the current economic crisis,” she added. “Restoration of the $500,000 to the MLSC fund is urgently needed.”

Through staff and volunteer lawyers, legal services programs help over 100,000 clients each year with urgent legal problems.  “This additional revenue cut would devastate these programs and create scores of Marylanders who would lose jobs, family supports and income because they cannot afford counsel,” said Sharon Goldsmith, executive director of the Pro Bono Resource Center, an MLSC grantee. ” Too many people of limited means already go without any legal guidance with credit, housing, employment, foreclosure, bankruptcy, trusts and estates, special education, domestic violence and other issues.  A funding cut would seriously exacerbate these problems and create greater social discord and community instability.”

Erlichman urges the public to contact members of the Senate Budget & Taxation Committee (410-841-3690 Annapolis/Baltimore or 301-858-3690 Washington, D.C.): Chair Ulysses Currie, Vice Chair Edward J. Kasemeyer, and members David R. Brinkley, Nathaniel J. McFadden, James E. DeGrange, Sr., Donald F. Munson, George C. Edwards, Douglas J. J. Peters, Verna L. Jones, James N. Robey, Nancy J. King, J. Lowell Stoltzfus, Rona E. Kramer, Bobby A. Zirkin, and Richard S. Madaleno, Jr.

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