Budget Bill Would Help Legal Aid Providers

, Legal Times

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The nation's legal aid providers stand to get back funding this year under Congress' latest budget plan.

A bipartisan appropriations bill moving through Congress this week would undo last year's $25 million budget cuts to Legal Services Corp, a spokesman said today. Those cuts, which came as a part of sequestration, brought a 7 percent reduction in grants for the 134 legal aid agencies that rely on LSC funding.

Lawmakers also included $2.5 million in the bill for LSC to start a new grant program—the Innovation Fund—to promote creativity in the expansion of legal assistance. The $2.5 million came at the request of the staff of Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), who heads the House Appropriations subcommittee that controls LSC funding.

Overall, LSC would receive $365 million for the 2014 fiscal year under the new appropriations bill. That is the same level as the previous fiscal year, but without the budget cuts from sequestration in March.

LSC is the largest source of financial support nationwide for civil legal aid. Because states have different ways to add funding to aid programs, budget cuts affected legal aid services in varying ways.

Cuts since 2010 forced some legal aid groups across the country to eliminate more than 1,000 staff positions and close nearly 30 offices. Last year's cuts from sequestration added to years of budget slashing for LSC, from a historic high of $420 million in the 2010 fiscal year.

The federal appropriation bill’s $365 million in funding is below LSC's request of $486 million, and less than the White House recommendation of $430 million.

The proposed appropriations bill comes on the heels of a bipartisan budget agreement in December to avoid another government shutdown and to prevent the government from defaulting on its debt. The bill must first pass the House and Senate before it’s presented to President Barack Obama.

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