COVID-19 Relief Funding for Legal Services Corporation Included in HEROES Act
Legal Services Corporation’s (LSC) request for $50 million in additional COVID-19 relief funding was included in the HEROES Act introduced in the House of Representatives on May 12. The funding would help LSC’s 132 grantees across the country assist low-income individuals facing job losses, evictions, domestic violence and other problems stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.
LSC estimates that it will cost at least $100 million to address the anticipated spike in legal services needs resulting from the pandemic. In March, LSC received $50 million in the $2 trillion stimulus package Congress passed to stabilize households and businesses affected by the coronavirus. Leaders from Congress, the judiciary and the wider legal community have written letters of support for this additional $50 million allocation to LSC.
Senators John Cornyn (TX), Dick Durbin (IL), Chris Murphy (CT) and Dan Sullivan (AK) sent a bipartisan letter on May 8 to the Senate Appropriations Committee in support of LSC’s request for an additional $50 million. The letter notes that the country needs stability during this challenging time, and that LSC and its grantees play a key role in providing legal services for the rising number of people who are eligible for legal aid. The Access to Civil Legal Services Caucus sent a similar bipartisan letter to the House Appropriations Committee on April 8.
The Conference of Chief Justices, which is made up of the highest judicial officers in the country, and the Conference of State Court Administrators submitted a joint letter of support to Congress. The letter cautions about a dramatic surge in evictions, domestic violence cases and protective orders, employment issues and unemployment claims, medical debt collection issues and other pressing legal problems stemming from the pandemic. It states that allocating an additional $50 million to LSC will ensure that as the devastating effects of the pandemic spread, low-income and vulnerable citizens can receive critically needed legal services.
The American Bar Association, the National Legal Aid & Defender Association and the Association of Pro Bono Counsel have also submitted letters of support for emergency funding and urged Congress to include LSC in its next relief bill.
“The HEROES Act reflects Congressional recognition that COVID-19 continues to increase enormously the life-altering civil legal needs faced by low income Americans and that legal aid can be a game-changer in addressing those needs,” said LSC President Ronald S. Flagg. “The dramatic spike in legal needs caused by COVID-19 coupled with precipitous declines in state and local funding underscore the continuing need for emergency federal funding for legal aid.”
LSC has already granted out the $50 million it received in the CARES Act to legal services providers across the country. It awarded more than $47 million to its grantees to address the critical civil legal needs confronting low-income families. LSC awarded $2.4 million to 126 of its grantees to support new equipment, services and related expenses needed for legal services organizations to improve or expand telework capabilities during this period of social distancing.