Amid other budget cuts, Pennsylvania governor maintains previous year’s civil legal aid funding

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “While Gov. Tom Corbett has proposed cutting Pennsylvania’s budget by 3 percent in order to close a $4.16 billion deficit, he has not proposed a big cut for legal services for the poor. But his budget proposed $47.2 million less in funding than the courts requested. . . .The court system is expecting to face some funding drop-offs next fiscal year because federal funds are slated to fall from $2.14 million this fiscal year to $1.42 million next year. In a budget where other state agencies and programs are facing deep cuts, Mr. Corbett’s proposals for legal services for the poor look relatively robust. He proposes to keep $5.05 million in legal services, funded through a Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) that involves federal funds targeted to urban or rural areas in economic distress, at the same level. He also proposes that funding for the Department of Public Welfare to contract with the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network (PLAN) to provide low-income people legal assistance be held at $3.01 million, down from $3.04 million in this fiscal year.

“‘In welfare, my budget retains the core services to care for our needy,’ Mr. Corbett said in his budget address. ‘At the same time, it puts the brakes on a runaway train of spending. My administration is committed to caring for the eligible poor. This budget reflects that commitment.’ Alfred J. Azen, the executive director of the state IOLTA (Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts) Board, which provides funding to legal services, said holding the state general funding for PLAN and the SSBG funding flat ‘demonstrates that he values the civil legal services for the poor.’ . . .

“Other funding shortfalls are appearing on the horizon for legal services. A temporary filing fee surcharge — which consists of $10.25 per filing to fund judicial operations, $1 per filing to fund civil legal services and $2.25 per filing to support district attorney salaries — is slated to expire Jan. 7, 2012, and also could affect funding for legal services, Mr. Azen said. Because the surcharge is supposed to sunset midway through the 2011-2012 fiscal year, only about $1.3 million would be generated for legal services, he said. Legal services in Pennsylvania may be affected because there are calls to roll back federal funding for legal services to 2008 levels.”

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