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 article said.
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 safe.
“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 funding continue.”
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 rise.
“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.”