The Colorado Bar Association is deeply concerned about the administration’s call for elimination of funding for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) in its FY2018 budget blueprint. LSC provides vital civil legal aid to Americans across the country, including here in Colorado: veterans denied rightfully earned benefits; families fighting unlawful eviction; seniors victimized by consumer scams; victims of domestic violence; and disaster survivors struggling to get back on their feet.
LSC’s annual appropriation is minuscule, accounting for only 1/10,000th of the federal budget. But this modest investment is an essential building block for assuring fairness in our civil justice system.
Coloradans know the value of LSC firsthand. We have an excellent statewide legal aid program, Colorado Legal Services (CLS), which receives 40 percent of its annual budget from LSC. CLS operates through a network of 13 offices around the state, in both urban and rural areas, and serves more than 10,000 Coloradans every year.
The elimination of LSC will not only imperil CLS’s ability to serve Coloradans in need, it will also vastly diminish the private bar’s capacity to help individuals who can’t afford counsel. Every year, Colorado Bar Association members provide countless hours of pro bono legal services to individuals in desperate need of assistance. This volunteer service is entirely dependent on our strong partnership with CLS, which screens cases for merit and eligibility, and trains and mentors our volunteer attorneys. For example, Metro Volunteer Lawyers, the Denver Bar Association’s flagship pro bono program, has served more than 4,000 Coloradans in the last three years, thanks in large part to its collaboration and partnership with CLS.
LSC funding is money well spent. Multiple clean audits show that 93.7 percent of LSC’s total budget is awarded in grants to provide services nationwide. Moreover, state studies have shown that the problems solved through the provision of civil legal aid offer a strong return on investment. CLS provided nearly $72 million of net benefit to its clients and the Colorado community in 2015, on total funding of just over $11.3 million. In other words, for every dollar spent on legal aid, Colorado received $6.34 in benefits, using standard Social Return on Investment analysis.
LSC has enjoyed strong bipartisan support for decades for a reason: Americans believe in justice for all, not just for those who can afford it. The same can be said more specifically and just as emphatically for Coloradans. We urge for the continuation of robust funding for LSC.
Patricia M. Jarzobski
President of the Colorado Bar Association