LSC Requests $1.5 Billion to Confront Widening Justice Gap Amid Pandemic Hardships
The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) is asking Congress for an appropriation of $1.5 billion in its FY 2024 budget request released today. This request addresses the projected increase in demand for civil legal services due to the persistent impact of COVID-19 on low-income Americans, coupled with the ongoing lack of adequate resources to address the widening justice gap.
As a result of the pandemic, the number of people seeking civil legal assistance is expected to grow significantly for the next several years. LSC grantees across the country urgently need additional resources to assist vulnerable people facing increases in evictions, foreclosures, domestic violence and problems with unemployment insurance and consumer scams. Legal aid programs provide life impacting services to families with children, senior citizens, veterans, and individuals and families recovering from disasters or the opioid epidemic.
LSC’s 2022 Justice Gap report—which details the difference between the civil legal needs of low-income Americans and the resources available to meet those needs—found a staggering deficit. Low-income Americans received no or insufficient legal help for 92% of their civil legal problems. Nationally, 74% of low-income households faced at least one civil legal problem—an increase from pre-pandemic numbers.
For the second year in a row, the Biden Administration is putting forward the largest ever White House request for LSC’s budget, topping its FY 2023 recommendation by $100 million to propose $800 million for FY 2024. The White House released the Executive Summary of its budget today and will follow on March 13 with an Appendix that includes the $800 million request for LSC.
“The people who our grantees serve are in desperate situations, legally and financially, and the pandemic has created additional legal and financial hardships for many Americans,” said LSC President Ron Flagg. “We are grateful that the White House realizes the urgent need to increase funding for civil legal aid.”
“At the same time, LSC’s Board of Directors has indicated that Congress’ investment in civil legal aid must grow substantially in order to combat the immense justice gap,” Flagg continued. “In recognition of the vast unmet need of low-income Americans, the Board unanimously supports LSC’s $1.5 billion budget request.”
Individuals who have a household income at or below 125% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines are eligible for LSC-funded legal assistance. In 2022, this corresponds to annual incomes below $34,500 for a family of four or $17,500 for an individual. Nearly 53.7 million Americans qualified for LSC’s grantees’ services as of 2021.
Notably, after falling every year since 2015, the eligible population increased in both 2020 and 2021. Already, LSC’s grantees must turn away 50% of eligible clients who seek civil legal services due to a lack of necessary resources.
In FY 2023, Congress appropriated $560 million for LSC. While this budget was an increase of $71 million over FY 2022, it still did not overcome the dearth of resources from decades of chronic underfunding of civil legal aid.
In FY 1980 Congress appropriated $300 million for LSC—adjusted for inflation, the 1980 appropriation would be more than $900 million in 2023 dollars. With the aftermath of the global pandemic, and the increasing numbers of Americans newly eligible for legal services, the need for substantially increased federal financial support for civil legal aid is even greater today.