West Virginia Record

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Budget cuts threaten to slam courthouse doors on many West Virginians

Their View

By Linda A. Klein and Marc E. Williams | May 23, 2017

HUNTINGTON – When ordinary Americans need help with life’s big problems, the Legal Services Corporation is there. But its survival is threatened. That’s why it needs help from every resident of West Virginia.

What does the LSC do to protect low-income individuals and families who can’t afford a lawyer? Here’s a recent story from Kanawha County.

Heather Gillenwater lost her home in last year’s flood, so she turned to FEMA for help. Unfortunately, FEMA denied her request because she had lost her insurance policy in the storm and couldn’t get a replacement. That’s when Legal Aid of West Virginia stepped in. A lawyer helped Heather file complaints with state authorities and got her the documentation she needed. Another attorney helped Heather with her FEMA appeal. Ultimately, she received $22,000 to help rebuild. 

Klein & Williams

There are many people like Heather Gillenwater around the country. Nationwide, LSC provides civil legal aid to nearly 2 million low-income people every year. To qualify, a family of four in the contiguous United States must earn less than $30,750 per year.  

LSC secures housing for veterans, frees seniors from scams and helps victims of domestic violence and disasters. It assists veterans and seniors who are about to lose their homes. It helps Americans receive government benefits they have earned.

Now the White House has proposed eliminating all federal funding for the Legal Services Corporation. 

Whenever we recite the Pledge of Allegiance, we reaffirm our belief in the idea of “liberty and justice for all.” It’s part of what makes us Americans. It’s a principle that applies to all people, regardless of income. That’s why it’s so important for Congress to sustain funding for the Legal Services Corporation – money that supports 800 legal aid offices across the country, in every congressional district. 

In West Virginia, LSC funds 12 legal aid offices that cover the entire state. Every year, more than 100 lawyers and other legal professionals help more than 17,000 West Virginian residents who can’t afford private lawyers, mostly with family law and housing disputes. 

And across the nation, LSC does this at a reasonable cost. Last year, the federal government allocated $385 million for LSC, or a little more than $1 for every American. That’s about $200 million dollars less than what Americans spent on Valentine’s Day gifts in 2017 – for their pets!

Legal Aid of West Virginia receives $2.2 million a year from LSC – roughly a quarter of its total budget. 

It’s a good investment. Many studies show legal aid returns far more to communities than it costs. If veterans become homeless, or seniors lose their money to scams, or disaster victims can’t rebuild, they cost society far more.

The American Bar Association has strongly supported LSC since its creation under President Nixon in 1974. Since then, the need for legal aid has grown. The number of Americans eligible for legal assistance has ballooned to 60 million, but half of all qualified clients are turned away because of a lack of resources.

For those who need its services, LSC is a lifesaver. Help us save the Legal Services Corporation and the good work it does. Go to DefendLegalAid.org to send a message to your elected representatives in Congress. 

Support for LSC has always been bipartisan. Rep. Evan Jenkins is vice chairman of the subcommittee that oversees funding for the Legal Services Corporation. He has been a loyal supporter of the LSC and we have every expectation that he will remain a friend to people in need.

Without the Legal Services Corporation, millions of Americans would be shut out of the justice system. That’s not right. Equal justice is a basic principle of our national Constitution. It should be protected by our federal government. That’s why funding LSC is so vital.

Klein is president of the American Bar Association and a senior managing shareholder at Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz, based Atlanta. Williams is a Huntington lawyer and the managing partner of the West Virginia office of Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, LLP.

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Organizations in this Story

Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz PC Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough

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