BOSTON, March 1, 2023 – Earlier today, Governor Maura Healey issued her FY24 state budget recommendations, which included $49 for civil legal aid through the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation’s (MLAC) line item 0321-1600.
“MLAC is grateful for Governor Healey’s outstanding commitment to supporting civil legal aid, and we applaud her increased investment of $8 million in state-appropriated funds for these services in FY24,” says MLAC Executive Director Lynne Parker. “This is the amount necessary to keep our state’s civil legal aid organizations operating at a pace that can meet increasing demand and address workforce retention and recruitment issues in the current economic climate.” People and families with incomes at or below 125% of the federal poverty level ($37,500 per year for a family of four; $18,255 for an individual) qualify for civil legal aid.
Civil legal aid can be a lifeline for people who cannot afford to hire an attorney when faced with serious issues related to their safety, shelter, or economic security. The end of pandemic-era relief programs, rising housing costs, and inflation have all contributed to increased demand for civil legal aid. Compared to the three years before the pandemic (FY17–FY19), case averages from FY20– FY22 reveal a 320% increase in unemployment insurance cases; a 40% increase in domestic violence cases; a 23% increase in private landlord/ tenant cases; and a 29% increase in immigration/ naturalization cases.
“As the largest funder of civil legal aid organizations in the Commonwealth, MLAC receives the majority of its funding from the annual state budget line item 0321-1600,” Parker says. “This investment directly supports Massachusetts civil legal aid organizations, which provide critical representation and resources to people with low incomes who face barriers to accessing their most basic needs.
“In recent years, increases in state appropriated funding have helped Massachusetts legal aid organizations serve more people and improve efficiencies. Just a few years ago, 57% of people who qualified for legal aid and sought help were denied representation. Last year, that rate was 47%. More investment in these programs will keep this trend moving in the right direction.”
“Our state’s civil legal aid organizations extend justice to our neighbors and strengthen communities across the Commonwealth,” Parker says. “We thank Governor Healey for the increased investment, which furthers the Commonwealth’s goal of upholding the promise of equal justice for all. MLAC looks forward to working collaboratively with the state legislature to approve this allocation of $49 million for civil legal aid in the final FY24 budget.”