SAN FRANCISCO – In a July article published by the California Bar Journal,
it announced that the state provided a $5 million increase to legal aid.
Gov. Jerry Brown approved an additional $5 million in
funding to help finance legal services for low-income people, seniors and
people with developmental disabilities.
“The Equal Access Fund’s jump in funding is sizeable for one
that has remained at roughly $10 million since its inception in 1999,” the
The article explained that the Equal Access Fund is one of
several the State Bar administers for legal services in California. Among many
other things, these organizations work to prevent domestic violence, keep
families in their homes, connect veterans to benefits and keep farm workers
“It really is quite a victory,” Catherine Blakemore,
executive director of Disability Rights California, said in the article. “We have a real
priority to reaching out to targeted communities with disabilities.”
Blakemore said the funding increase will help her
organization hire at least three new attorneys who could offer legal services
for people with disabilities, including those who don’t speak English or who
lack access to specialized types of health care.
“The increase in funding will also be a boon to California
Rural Legal Assistance, which has 18 offices in 24 California counties,”
Executive Director Jose Padilla said in the article. “Last year, CRLA also received Equal
Access funds and helped about 44,000 people.”
In most counties, there is one legal aid attorney for every
10,000 people, Padilla explained. He said CRLA will use the money to extend
legal services to those areas where access to legal aid attorneys is hard to find.
“California used to be a real leader in this area and now
it’s 22nd,” Blakemore said. “We’ll work with all our partners to have this
In an October 2014 report release by the State Bar, it
addressed in detail the issues people in the state are facing.
“When communities need legal help to create affordable
housing, preserve public transit corridors or establish needed
micro-businesses, or when individuals need access to justice to avoid
homelessness, prevent domestic violence, claim earned wages, or keep children
in school, California’s nonprofit legal aid organizations are there to help, as
they have been for over 75 years,” the 2014 report said.
It further stressed that legal aid advocates make sure that
otherwise vulnerable Californians are better able to keep a roof over their
heads, food on the table and their families together. These services minimize
social and financial displacement and benefit not only the low-income clients,
but also society as a whole.
“Unfortunately, between 2008 and 2014, revenue from one of
the core sources of funding for legal aid, the Interest on Lawyers’ Trust
Accounts (IOLTA) dropped over 80 percent due to declining interest rates – from $22.7
million to just below $5 million,” the report said.
This is what the State Bar calls the “Justice Gap,” which is
the disparity between resources and need.
“Because of the recession, legal aid advocates say that five
to 10 times more clients are now showing up at clinics,” the report said. “Sadly,
not only are organizations seeing an increase in the number of clients, but
those clients are in deeper crisis. More people who previously were stable are
losing their jobs, their housing, or their health care – any one of which could
result in serious social costs.”
Without additional resources, legal aid programs would face
significantly reduced capacity to provide services, just as demand is on the
“This is a terrific step in the right direction,” Kelli
Evans, senior director administration of justice at the State Bar, said in the Bar Journal. “Not
only will the funding make a real difference in the lives of thousands of
individuals and families who need legal help but it’s a smart investment for
California. Studies show that for every $1 spent on legal aid, $6 or more is
returned to the state.”