CHARLESTON – Because Congress cut federal funding to legal services by nearly 15 percent, Legal Aid of West Virginia has had to make statewide layoffs and close one of its offices.
"Most of our costs are spent on our people, our case handlers," said Adrienne Worthy, the executive director of Legal Aid of West Virginia. "With less money, we have less people and regretfully, are able to provide fewer services to the West Virginians who need it most."
In response to the cuts in federal funds, Legal Aid is closing its office located in Logan and is eliminating the positions of 15 case handlers, including attorneys and paralegals.
"The Legal Aid Board of Directors took very, very seriously the need to balance providing services to West Virginians and the immediate need to decrease costs so as to preserve and protect on-going services of the organization," said Andy Nason, the Board's president. "The decision to reduce staff and close an office was made only after an extensive and painful planning process."
In the last five years, more than 5,000 people have been helped through services provided by the Logan office and nearly $1 million has gone directly into the pockets of Logan and Mingo residents through the Social Security work of the office.
Worthy said the loss of the Logan office with have a major impact on the overall community.
"While we will strive to continue serving Logan and Mingo Counties from our Charleston office, it will be at a drastically decreased level," Worthy said.
For other offices across the state, spanning Wheeling to Lewisburg and Huntington to Martinsburg, the elimination of case handling positions means an extreme reduced capacity to serve low-income West Virginians.
In 2010, Legal Aid served nearly 24,000 people across the state. Without Legal Aid of West Virginia, access to justice for some of West Virginia's poorest and most vulnerable citizens will be denied.
"Although assisting thousands of people a year sounds impressive, the truth is the demand for legal help far exceeds those we can serve," Worthy said. "It is so difficult cutting services that is proven to make a life-changing impact on someone seeking safety or self-sufficiency."
Cuts to Legal Aid of West Virginia are expected to total $1.2 million by 2013. While surrounding states enjoy significant support with state funding, West Virginia's state support pales in comparison.
"In addition to a private fundraising campaign, our supporters are asking the governor and the Legislature to make a commitment of state dollars to augment the gaping hole left by the funding cuts," Worthy said. "We know that access to justice for low-income West Virginians is important to our state leaders, too."