Massachusetts State House

Sen. Creem speaks in support of civil legal aid funding during Senate budget debate

The following are remarks by Senate Majority Leader Cynthia Creem, during the Massachusetts Senate budget debate on May 24, 2018.

“I would like to speak to amendment #992, an MLAC amendment. We voted in support of it. It provides $2 million for civil legal aid for those who can’t afford an attorney. 65 percent of those eligible are now turned away due to lack of resources. Every dollar spent on civil legal aid brings in $2 to $5. This provides a modest increase and moves us to full funding of legal assistance. If we care about civil rights and due process, we all deserve the right to be represented. I think this is one of the most important things that we’re doing with this budget. I’m happy this was approved.”

Massachusetts State House

Senate Ways & Means Committee recommends $1 million increase for civil legal aid

Below is a statement from the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation on the $1 million increase proposed by the Senate Ways & Means Committee.

BOSTON, May 10, 2018―In its FY19 budget, released today, the Senate Ways & Means Committee recommended funding civil legal aid in the Commonwealth at $19 million. This represents a $1 million increase over last year’s budget. Given the depth of unmet need for civil legal aid services among people living in poverty, the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) will continue to advocate for an additional $4 million in funding from the Senate.

“Civil legal aid funding plays a vital role in promoting equal access to justice for low-income residents of the Commonwealth and we’re pleased that the Senate Ways & Means Committee recognizes this contribution,” said Lonnie Powers, executive director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC). “Given the need for services among those seeking civil legal aid, and the significant return on investment yielded by civil legal aid funding, we will continue to advocate for increased investment by the state during the Senate floor debate.”

Currently, civil legal aid programs around the state turn away approximately 65 percent of eligible residents who seek services—nearly 45,000 people each year. To be eligible for civil legal aid, applicants must have incomes at or below 125% of the Federal Poverty Level, which is $31,375 a year for a family of four.

Earlier this year, MLAC released its annual Economic Benefits Report, which showed that civil legal assistance provided by MLAC-funded programs in fiscal year 2017 yielded at least $59.2 million in savings or new revenue for the state and its residents. Successful representation in appeals to Social Security Insurance, Social Security Disability Insurance, Unemployment Insurance, Medicare coverage, and federal tax decisions resulted in $17.6 million in new federal revenue for the Commonwealth. An additional $24.3 million was gained through child support orders, debt relief for homeowners in foreclosure cases, and additional non-federal Unemployment Insurance claims and representation for tenants. The state saved $17.2 million in services that it would have otherwise provided if not for civil legal aid, including emergency shelter, foster care, and medical costs related to domestic violence.

Senators Cynthia Creem and William Brownsberger will file an amendment to increase the Senate Ways & Means recommendation by $4 million, for a total appropriation of $23 million, as the Senate budget is debated. This funding increase would be another important step in addressing the significant unmet need among those who are eligible for and seek civil legal aid.

“Our 14 community-based programs across Massachusetts improve the health, safety, and well-being of the state by making it possible for low-income residents to access civil legal resolutions to life-changing issues related to housing, employment, and health care,” said Marijane Benner Browne, chair of the MLAC Board of Directors. “In doing this, we ultimately save millions of dollars of the state’s money and bring in millions more in federal funding. This cost-effective and efficient use of our tax dollars strengthens families and all of our communities.”

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ABOUT MLAC

The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation was established by the state legislature in 1983 to ensure that low-income people with critical, non-criminal legal problems would have access to legal information, advice and representation. MLAC is the largest funding source for civil legal aid programs in Massachusetts. Visit www.mlac.org for more information.

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Rep. Cronin speaks in support of civil legal aid funding during House budget debate

The following are remarks by Representative Claire Cronin, Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, during the Massachusetts House budget debate on April 25, 2018.

Rep. Cronin: “I rise in support of the amendment for public safety and judiciary. There are many important provisions in the consolidated amendment. I want to highlight one that is near and dear to us. That is the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation. We fund it at $20.75 million, a $2.75 million increase over the current budget and a $2.57 million increase over the governor’s budget. This was a strong priority for the majority of members of this House. MLAC is a vital resource and removes barriers to legal assistance. Last year assisted over 83,000 individuals in Massachusetts regarding housing, domestic violence and other issues. In fiscal 2017, MLAC yielded a return of over $59 million in benefits, including securing federal assistance and generating substantial savings for the state in housing and health care costs. I ask for your support for this amendment.”

Massachusetts State House

House Ways & Means Committee recommends $2 million increase for civil legal aid

Below is a statement from the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation on the $2 million increase proposed by the House Ways & Means Committee.

Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corp. Praises House Ways & Means Committee Budget

BOSTON, April 11, 2018―On Wednesday, the House Ways & Means Committee recommended $20 million for civil legal aid funding in its Fiscal Year 2019 budget, which represents a $2 million increase over the Fiscal Year 2018 budget.

“We’re pleased that the House Ways & Means Committee recognizes the role that civil legal aid funding plays in promoting equal access to justice for low-income residents of the Commonwealth, and we are extremely grateful for this support,” said Lonnie Powers, executive director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC). “However, given the great depth of unmet need among those seeking civil legal aid, and the significant return on investment yielded by civil legal aid funding, we need to continue to advocate for increased investment by the state during the House floor debate.”

Currently, civil legal aid programs around the state turn away approximately 65 percent of eligible residents who seek services—nearly 45,000 people each year. To be eligible for civil legal aid, applicants must have incomes at or below 125% of the Federal Poverty Level, which is $31,375 a year for a family of four.

Earlier this year, MLAC released its annual Economic Benefits Report, which showed that civil legal assistance provided by MLAC-funded programs in fiscal year 2017 yielded at least $59.2 million in savings or new revenue for the state and its residents. Successful representation in appeals to Social Security Insurance, Social Security Disability Insurance, Unemployment Insurance, Medicare coverage, and federal tax decisions resulted in $17.6 million in new federal revenue for the Commonwealth. An additional $24.3 million was gained through child support orders, debt relief for homeowners in foreclosure cases, and additional non-federal Unemployment Insurance claims and representation for tenants. The state saved $17.2 million in services that it would have otherwise provided if not for civil legal aid. These services include emergency shelter, foster care, and medical costs related to domestic violence.

Representative Ruth Balser and Representative Claire Cronin will file an amendment to increase the House Ways & Means recommendation by $2 million, for a total appropriation of $22 million, as the House budget is debated. This funding increase would be another important step in addressing the significant unmet need among those who are eligible for and seek civil legal aid.

“Public spending should be aligned with effective, successful programs that improve the health, safety, and well-being of our residents. Our 14 community-based programs across Massachusetts meet that bar,” said Marijane Benner Browne, chair of the MLAC Board of Directors. “Civil legal aid programs assist people who are struggling to make ends meet resolve civil legal issues related to basic necessities such as housing, employment, classroom accommodations for children with disabilities, and conflicts related to child support and custody, divorce, and domestic violence.”

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ABOUT MLAC

The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation was established by the state legislature in 1983 to ensure that low-income people with critical, non-criminal legal problems would have access to legal information, advice and representation. MLAC is the largest funding source for civil legal aid programs in Massachusetts. For more information, visit www.mlac.org.

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Letter to the Editor: Civil legal aid is a bargain in its rescued lives

This letter appeared in the Worcester Telegram.

With uncertainty about how federal tax reform will impact Massachusetts, state lawmakers writing next year’s budget have an almost impossible task. They must align public spending with programs that not only improve lives, but yield a substantial return on investment, as well.

Civil legal aid does just this by providing legal representation or advice to people with low incomes facing life-changing noncriminal legal issues, such as divorce, home foreclosure, or improperly denied public benefits such as unemployment or health insurance. Free legal representation can stabilize lives of individuals and families in crisis – such as a frail elder needing protection from an abusive family member or caregiver; a military veteran denied health care benefits; or a family facing evictionbecause of a job layoff. This work is provided by 14 civil legal aid programs around the state, including Community Legal Aid in Worcester.

Politicians in Washington have changed federal policy and cut anti-poverty programs, increasing the legal needs of people struggling to make ends meet, making it more important than ever that vulnerable people in our Commonwealth aren’t left to navigate our complicated legal system alone. Those who qualify for civil legal aid are some of the most vulnerable among us, an individual scraping by on little more than $15,000 per year, for example, or afamily of four living on $32,000 annually.

Simply put, equal justice under law should not be a privilege based on how much money you make. We hope that lawmakers continue to support civil legal aid.

John A. Shea, Board President, Community Legal Aid

Worcester

Douglas Brown, Board Member, Community Legal Aid

Sherborn

Job Opening: Executive Director, Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation

The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC), a statewide organization that provides leadership and support for civil legal services to low-income individuals and families, in partnership with the broader civil legal services community in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, seeks nominations and applications for its next Executive Director.

Read the announcement and full job description on the MLAC website.

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Letter to the Editor: The health, safety and livelihoods of many of our neighbors depend on civil legal aid

This letter appeared in the Springfield Republican.

In Massachusetts, legal aid lawyers are helping a growing number of elders escape exploitation and abuse at the hands of adult children who are addicted to opioids, and helping victims of Hurricane Maria who narrowly escaped Puerto Rico’s devastation navigate the legal requirements of resettling and restarting their lives here.

These are just a few ways that civil legal aid organizations respond to emerging needs in our communities. In Massachusetts, there are 14 such programs, including Community Legal Aid in Springfield.

In times of unforeseen events, public crises, and catastrophes, civil legal aid lawyers are often on the front lines alongside the Red Cross, law enforcement and first responders. Legal aid organizations are among the last to leave because crises of any type usually create long-term, civil legal needs resulting from such things as the loss of vital documents needed to enroll kids in school or receive medical care, or home foreclosure caused by a temporary inability to make mortgage payments after one is forced to leave their home.

Catastrophic weather events, public health emergencies like the opioid epidemic, changes to immigration policy, and the continued whittling away of federal safety net programs create increased demand for legal help in communities where people are already struggling to get by. Indeed, those who qualify for civil legal aid are some of the most vulnerable among us — an individual scraping by on little more than $15,000 per year, for example, or a family of four living on a $31,375 annual income.

Now is not the time for to cut state funding for civil legal aid; it should be increased. The health, safety and livelihoods of many of our neighbors depend on it.

Timothy Murphy, Springfield
The writer is a member of the board of directors of Community Legal Aid

Amid deportations, SJC’s chief justice pleads for $5m hike in funding for civil legal aid

Travis Andersen, GLOBE STAFF  JANUARY 25, 2018

The chief justice of the state’s highest court made an impassioned plea Thursday for a $5 million increase in public funding for civil legal aid for poor Massachusetts residents, including undocumented immigrants facing possible deportation and the severing of their families.

Speaking at the State House, Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants of the Supreme Judicial Court said raising the yearly budget allocation for indigent civil legal aid, to $23 million from $18 million, is vital amid the threat of deportation faced by thousands of state residents from Haiti, El Salvador, and Honduras who recently lost protection under the federal Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, program.

“Why $5 million more than last year? Last year, Elsa, a 45-year-old TPS holder from El Salvador who cleans Boston offices from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m., and who takes care of her two sons, both US citizens, during the rest of her waking hours, was not faced with being forced to return to El Salvador and to leave her children,” Gants said.

Continue reading on Boston Globe website…

 

Massachusetts State House

Chief Justice Gants and Bar Association Leaders to Speak at 19th Annual Walk to the Hill

BOSTON (January 16, 2018)―Chief Justice Ralph Gants of the Supreme Judicial Court and bar association leaders will join hundreds of private attorneys from more than 40 law firms at the Massachusetts State House on Thursday, Jan. 25 at 11:00 a.m. for the 19th Annual Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid. Attendees of this annual lobby day, one of the largest held on Beacon Hill each year, will request a $5 million increase in state funding for programs that provide civil legal aid to low-income Massachusetts residents. Approximately 880,000 people in Massachusetts have incomes at or below 125% of the Federal Poverty Level ($30,750 a year for a family of four), making them eligible for civil legal aid.

“Tens of thousands of people who live in Massachusetts cannot afford the legal help or representation they need when facing life-changing circumstances such as escaping domestic violence, unlawful eviction or home foreclosure, or the denial of veteran’s benefits,” said Lonnie Powers, executive director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC). “They’re left to navigate these complex legal matters alone, putting their families, homes, health, and livelihoods at risk. Civil legal aid gives low-income people in Massachusetts the tools they need to achieve or maintain their financial stability and independence.”

Speakers at Walk to the Hill will include Chief Justice Gants, Boston Bar Association President Mark D. Smith, and Massachusetts Bar Association President Christopher P. Sullivan. The program will also include remarks by a client who has been helped by civil legal aid.

“At a time when immigrant communities face uncertainty and hostility, and fear that the rule of law is threatened, the need for legal advocacy and advice from our civil legal aid organizations has never been more urgent,” said Justice Gants.

MBA President Christopher P. Sullivan said: “With no guarantee of a lawyer in a civil case, far too many Massachusetts residents go unrepresented in court because they simply cannot afford a lawyer, and the legal aid resources are far too limited to help everyone who is qualified to receive such aid. That’s unacceptable. Having access to a lawyer is critical, especially when folks are fighting for their homes or services for their kids or facing other life-altering challenges. More funding for legal aid is the answer, and the Massachusetts Bar Association urges our elected officials to increase funding for legal aid to ensure equal justice for all in the Commonwealth.”

“Every year, we work alongside our partners in the Equal Justice Coalition to secure funding for civil legal aid in the state budget because we understand the devastating consequences for Massachusetts families who cannot afford legal representation,” said Boston Bar Association President Mark Smith. “In addition to enabling low-income residents to access legal services, investing resources in civil legal aid saves money.”

“Civil legal aid is a solid return on investment for Massachusetts taxpayers and our communities,” said MLAC Board Chair Marijane Benner Browne. “In fiscal year 2016, the work of the 14 civil legal aid programs funded by MLAC provided an economic benefit of $49.2 million to the state’s economy. This included federal benefits and other financial support for low-income residents, as well as shelter and health care cost savings for the state.”

Following the speaking program, attorneys will visit their legislators and urge them to increase funding for MLAC, the largest funder of civil legal aid in Massachusetts, by $5 million in the FY19 state budget, for a total appropriation of $23 million.

Walk to the Hill is sponsored by the Equal Justice Coalition, a collaboration of the Boston Bar Association, Massachusetts Bar Association, and the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation. The event is also co-sponsored by numerous county and specialty bar associations throughout Massachusetts.

SPEAKING PROGRAM

11:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
Great Hall of Flags
Massachusetts State House, Boston

The order of speakers is as follows:

  • Chief Justice Ralph Gants of the Supreme Judicial Court
  • Boston Bar Association President Mark D. Smith
  • Massachusetts Bar Association President Christopher P. Sullivan
  • Legal aid client

NOTE: Members of the media are welcome to attend all or part of the speaking program. Please follow the Equal Justice Coalition on Twitter (www.twitter.com/equaljusticema) as well as the hashtags #IWalkForJustice and #WalktotheHill for the latest on Walk to the Hill 2018.

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About the Equal Justice Coalition

The Equal Justice Coalition, a collaboration of the Boston Bar Association, Massachusetts Bar Association and the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, works to increase state funding for civil legal aid. For more information, visit www.equaljusticecoalition.org.