More Should Be Done For Legal Aid Funding
As mentioned by LL in an exhaustive budget rundown, At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson kept funding in the city budget for a program that helps the poor pay for attorneys. Today, Bread for the City cheered the news on its blog ("Beyond Bread"):
"Yesterday, the DC Council Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to maintain funding for civil legal services for low income DC residents.
Under the approved budget, more than $3.5 million will be allocated for civil legal services (including loan repayment for eligible lawyers). This is essentially the same amount of funding that was allocated to legal services for the poor in the FY 2009 budget. Considering the fact that this funding stream is just barely older than the economic downturn, and given the scale of DC's current budget crisis, it is no small beans to see the funding maintained."
Beyond Bread shares some stunning statistics on just how deep the need is for representation.
In an earlier blog post, they note that three percent of residents in Landlord Tenant Court have representation. And a lot of people are filing for TANF benefits and seeking a better education for their special ed child without the assistance of counsel. The scary data is coming from the Access to Justice Commission's report released in early October 2008. The report finds stunning gaps in legal representation for residents seeking a wide range of needs. In the wake of the Erika Peters case, here is a frightening stat: 98 percent of respondents in cases filed in the Domestic Violence Unit in D.C. Superior Court represent themselves.
So while Mendo and Co. were able to keep funding levels the same, the city should do more than just tread water on this issue. Though the report doesn't address the current budget debate and funding levels, the sentiments still apply. The report notes:
"Even in light of these resources, the needs of those who cannot afford a lawyer substantially outweigh the available services. Our survey indicated that one of the top three reasons providers turned away requests in 2005 was that they had inadequate resources to handle the matter."