The Obama Administration, in its budget released yesterday, called for the removal of select draconian restrictions on civil legal aid for the poor that are depriving countless families of equal access to justice. The President’s Budget recommends that Congress remove three of the 13 -year-old funding restrictions imposed on independent legal aid organizations that receive part of their funding from the federal Legal Services Corporation (LSC), including Maryland Legal Aid.
Specifically, the President’s Budget proposes that Congress permit states, local governments and private donors to decide how their contributions to LSC recipient organizations will be spent. Currently, LSC recipients are subjected to a uniquely harsh “poison pill restriction” that ties up all the funds of an organization once it receives its first dollar of LSC funds. Nationally, this poison pill restriction ties up as much as $490 million in state, local, private and other non-LSC funds.
The President also proposes that Congress put legal aid attorneys on equal footing with all other attorneys by permitting them to seek attorneys’ fee awards when they have proven their case and when an underlying consumer protection, civil rights or other law authorizes the award. Any fees collected from a wrongdoer in the litigation would, in turn, fund the representation of more individuals in need.
Lastly, the budget also proposes that legal aid attorneys be permitted to participate in class actions on behalf of their clients. Class actions are sometimes the most efficient way to help groups of individuals, for example, those victimized by predatory lenders, foreclosure rescue scams, or other fraudulent activities.
In addition to lifting these three restrictions, the President’s budget seeks a $45 million increase in funding for LSC for FY 2010, which, if implemented, would bring the total funding level to $435 million, up from $390 million in FY 2009.
For more information on the restrictions and the changes that have been requested by access to justice leaders, click here.