Administer Funding for Legal Aid
PLAN, Inc. administers funding from a variety of sources, to help fund legal services programs across the state. For an article on the array of legal services programs in Pennsylvania, follow this link. The primary sources of support are:
Appropriated funding from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. As part of the annual budget process, since 1973 the Commonwealth has appropriated funds for the provision of civil legal services. These funds are partly made up of federal Social Services Block Grant funding, which the state is permitted to use for support of programs like legal services. As a separate line in the budget, the Commonwealth has also consistently provided direct state funding for these services. The amounts of both these lines can change from year to year, as part of the overall budget process.
PLAN, Inc. is highly appreciative of this consistent source of support for legal aid. It is disappointing that generally, the total amount appropriated is still about equal to what it was in 1973. Taking inflation into account, this means the amount falls far below its prior value. We continue to advocate for increased funding to support access to justice through legal services.
These funds are appropriated to the Department of Public Welfare, which contracts with PLAN, Inc. to subcontract for and distribute them to PLAN programs, and to oversee the accountability for use of these funds. Follow this link for a description of the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network programs.
Filing fee surcharge on various courthouse filings. The Access to Justice Act is legislation that provides additional funding for legal services through a $2 surcharge on various courthouse filings. The funds collected through this surcharge are directed to the Pa. IOLTA Board, an arm of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The funds are earmarked for PLAN programs. PLAN, Inc. fulfills similar subcontracting and accountability functions for this funding as with state funding. Reports on this funding can be viewed on the IOLTA Board website.
Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts funding. These funds are generated as interest on accounts held by individual lawyers and law firms, on client escrow accounts. Lawyers are not permitted to make money off of client funds. When the client funds are held in too small an amount, or for too short a period of time to justify setting up separate accounts, they are held in IOLTA accounts, where the interest is pooled. For example, a lawyer may hold settlement funds for a real estate closing, just for a few days. The interest on this would be distributed through the IOLTA account. The IOLTA Board contracts with PLAN, Inc. to administer these funds to PLAN programs. The Board also directly grants these funds on a competitive basis, for innovative legal services projects across the state.
Some special amounts are added to the IOLTA funding. For example, interest generated on funds held by Magisterial District Judges is added to this pool.
Also, every Pennsylvania lawyer is assessed $25 annually, to help support access to justice, by funding of legal services. This generates about $1.5 million, which is added to the IOLTA funding.
Other special funding. Other funding from time to time is specially allocated to PLAN, Inc. to support help for legal services clients who have nowhere else to turn. For example, the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency has allocated funds to help represent clients facing housing problems, in the areas of eviction and foreclosure. The Department of Public Welfare has also distributed a one-time appropriation of $2 million to advance the technological capacity of legal services programs.