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The health, safety and livelihoods of many of our neighbors depend on civil legal aid (Springfield Republican)

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