Quigley Offers Amendment to Provide Essential Legal Services to Millions of Low-Income Americans
U.S. Representative Mike Quigley (IL-05), who serves as a member of the House Appropriations Committee, offered an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2018 Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) Subcommittee appropriations bill to increase funding for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) to the FY17 enacted level of $385 million. The FY18 CJS bill only includes $300 million for LSC, while President Trump wanted to completely eliminated the program.
Below are Rep. Quigley’s opening remarks on the amendment, as prepared for delivery:
“One of the founding principles of our republic is equal justice under the law, but the promise of justice for all is an empty one without access to legal assistance.
“The Legal Services Corporation plays a vital role in fulfilling one of the federal government’s core responsibilities: making sure all Americans, regardless of income, have proper representation in court. That’s why this year’s 24% cut will be disastrous.
“Unlike in criminal law matters, no right to counsel exists in civil cases, which leaves many low-income Americans on their own to navigate our complicated legal system. Studies consistently show that in contested matters in court involving fundamental issues like housing, education, and family law, the outcome of the case often turns on whether or not someone has legal representation.
“The Legal Services Corporation provides critical funding for a network of legal aid organizations around the country to provide that essential legal representation to millions of American in need.
“Each of our congressional districts are affected by this funding, including three legal aid organizations in my state of Illinois. And this $85 million cut means over 400,000 people nationwide will not be served, and 170,000 fewer cases will be closed.
“This brutal cut will also lead to layoffs at a time when more people are in need of competent legal aid than ever. In Illinois alone, funding will be reduced by $2.9 million. This means that almost 25% fewer people will be served, or around 15,000 individuals whose needs go unaddressed.
“The size of the population eligible for legal assistance has increased dramatically from 2007. As a result, legal aid programs across the country are struggling to keep up with the overwhelming demand. And recent studies indicate that legal aid offices turn away 50 percent or more of those seeking help.
“Already, 86% of civil legal problems of impoverished Americans did not receive adequate or any legal aid. This shockingly high figure would only increase if this funding cut was enacted.
“Mr. Chairman, funding this program at a higher level is not only the right thing to do, but it saves us money in the long run.
“Let’s keep in mind that only a quarter of civil legal aid is funded by the federal government. Reducing this already minimal contribution that safeguards the basic rights of millions of Americans only unduly affects the most disadvantaged.
“Legal aid in Illinois produces an almost 2 to 1 return on investment in economic benefits, saving the taxpayers money on other government services and helping the court system function more efficiently.
“I urge my colleagues to support equal access to justice for all Americans.”