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MLAC Commends Senate Approval of Additional $1M Increase for Civil Legal Aid

With amendment, total appropriation for MLAC rises to $41M

BOSTON, May 26, 2022 – Yesterday, the Massachusetts Senate approved an amendment to increase civil legal aid funding an additional $1 million for Fiscal Year 2023, for a total increase of $6 million. This brings the total annual funding included in the Senate budget to $41 million for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, line item 0321-1600.

“On behalf of MLAC and the civil legal aid organizations it funds, I would like to express my gratitude to Senate President Karen Spilka and Senate Ways and Means Chair Michael Rodrigues for their leadership in providing this much-needed increase,” said Lynne Parker, MLAC executive director. “We also thank Senate Majority Leader Cynthia Creem and Senate Judiciary Chair James Eldridge for their ongoing leadership and support of critical funding for civil legal aid and for championing the amendment adding $1 million in funding for civil legal aid, and the 22 other senators who co-sponsored it.”

“By approving this budget amendment, the Senate has recognized the heightened need for civil legal aid across the Commonwealth due to the continuing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Legal aid attorneys provide vital services to low-income people, assisting with serious civil legal issues such as unemployment compensation, housing, income supports and education,” Parker said. “While the pandemic has widened existing inequities that low-income people face, civil legal aid organizations have rapidly innovated to address the rise in cases. It is important that organizations have additional resources to continue addressing COVID-19’s lasting impacts.”

In FY21, MLAC-funded civil legal aid organizations assisted 92,000 Massachusetts residents. Due to recent funding increases, civil legal aid organizations have reduced the percentage of eligible people turned away to 57 percent, down from 64 percent five years ago.

“Increasing access to civil legal aid is a public good, and we all must advocate for a more expansive vision of legal aid,” Majority Leader Creem said.

“I am very proud of what the Legislature has done over the past few years,” Chair Eldridge said. “Low-income people are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, housing insecurity, inflation and other threats to stability that often require civil legal assistance. I’m extremely proud of the legal aid agencies that have stepped up.”

top of Massachusetts state house with gold dome against clear blue sky

MLAC Backs Senate Budget Amendment to Increase Civil Legal Aid Funding

BOSTON, May 10, 2022 – Massachusetts Senate Majority Leader Cynthia Creem and Senate Judiciary Chair James Eldridge have filed an amendment to increase civil legal aid funding by $1 million, for total funding of $41 million in the Senate budget.

Today, the Senate Ways and Means Committee presented its Fiscal Year 2023 budget, including $40 million to fund civil legal aid through the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, line item 0321-1600. While this amount represents a $5 million increase over FY22, it is not the $41 million recommended by MLAC.

“Civil legal aid is an integral part of the Commonwealth’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, and we are grateful to Senate President Karen Spilka and Senate Ways and Means Chair Michael Rodrigues for their leadership in providing this funding,” said Lynne Parker, executive director of MLAC. “With the heightened demand for legal services in mind, as a result of the ongoing pandemic and its disproportionate impact on low-income people, we urge senators to support the amendment sponsored by Majority Leader Cynthia Creem and Judiciary Chair James Eldridge, which would add an additional $1 million in funding and help more people.” People with an income at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty line —$34,688 per year for a family of four—are eligible for civil legal aid.

Parker said that civil legal aid cases are expected to rise by nearly 20 percent by the end of FY22, compared to last year. “Massachusetts legal aid organizations are facing a financial and workforce strain as they are seeing increased caseloads, especially in the areas of unemployment insurance, housing, consumer and finance, immigration, and education. Strengthening organizations’ capacity will allow them to assist more low-income residents in accessing their most basic needs. With increased funding, organizations will be able to hire more attorneys and critical staff, raise attorney salaries to similar levels as other public sector attorney jobs, and upgrade technology to better meet the needs of clients and staff,” Parker said.

Parker recognized the Equal Justice Coalition for its ongoing advocacy for civil legal aid, including the Massachusetts Bar Association, the Boston Bar Association, the Women’s Bar Association, managing partners of many of the state’s largest law firms, corporate in-house counsel, law schools, and advocates with social services organizations across the Commonwealth.

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House Approves Additional $1.5M Increase for Civil Legal Aid

With amendment, total appropriation for MLAC rises to $41M

BOSTON, April 27, 2022 – On Tuesday, the Massachusetts House of Representatives approved an amendment to increase civil legal aid funding an additional $1.5 million for Fiscal Year 2023, for a total increase of $6 million. This brings the total annual funding included in the House budget to $41 million for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, line item 0321-1600.

“On behalf of MLAC and the Massachusetts legal aid organizations it funds, which have assisted low-income people facing serious civil legal issues throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we are extremely grateful for this increase in funding,” said Lynne Parker, executive director of MLAC. “We thank Speaker Ron Mariano and Ways and Means Chair Aaron Michlewitz for their leadership and strong support of increased funding for MLAC and civil legal services. We are immensely grateful to Division Leader Ruth Balser and House Judiciary Chair Michael Day for championing the amendment adding $1.5 million in funding for civil legal aid, and we thank the other 77 representatives who co-sponsored it.”

“Bolstering legal aid organizations’ capacity to assist vulnerable people in areas including housing, unemployment insurance and access to health care comes at a critical time during the Commonwealth’s pandemic recovery,” Parker said. “With this increase in funding, the House has recognized the important role civil legal aid plays in protecting the lives and livelihoods of thousands of Massachusetts residents.”

“I am proud of the House for recognizing the essential work done by MLAC to make sure that low-income residents of Massachusetts have legal representation in the courts,” said Balser. “With this increased appropriation, many more eligible individuals will have help with the challenges they face ranging from eviction to unemployment to immigration and health care.”

The Massachusetts Senate is expected to release its budget in early May.

Front of Massachusetts state house with gold dome

MLAC Backs Amendment to Increase Civil Legal Aid Funding in House Budget

BOSTON, April 15, 2022 – On Wednesday, the House Ways and Means Committee presented its Fiscal Year 2023 budget, including $39.5 million to fund civil legal aid through the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, line item 0321-1600—a $4.5 million increase over FY22. This amount falls short of the $41 million recommended by MLAC. People with an income at or below 125% of the federal poverty line —$34,688/year for a family of four—are eligible for civil legal aid.

“We are grateful to House Speaker Ronald Mariano and House Ways and Means Chair Aaron Michlewitz for their leadership in providing funding for civil legal aid, which continues to be vital to the Commonwealth’s response to the COVID-19 crisis,” said Lynne Parker, executive director of MLAC. “However, we urge representatives to support Amendment 301, sponsored by Division Leader Ruth Balser and Judiciary Chair Michael Day, which would add an additional $1.5 million in funding and help more people. Low-income people, and particularly people of color, face ongoing challenges due to the pandemic—in areas including unemployment insurance, income maintenance, housing, immigration, education, and family law.”

Parker noted that recent funding increases have enabled legal aid organizations to turn away fewer eligible people. “The impact of additional civil legal aid funding would be significant—improving technological infrastructure for organizations and the clients they serve, allowing organizations to hire more attorneys to take on the increased caseload that resulted from the pandemic, increasing salaries to attract and retain talented staff who are reflective of the communities they work with, and building the capacity of community and social service organizations they partner with,” she said. “Civil legal aid is the backbone of access to justice in our Commonwealth.”

Parker recognized the Equal Justice Coalition for its ongoing advocacy for civil legal aid, including the Massachusetts Bar Association, the Boston Bar Association, the Women’s Bar Association, managing partners of many of the state’s largest law firms, and advocates with social services organizations across the Commonwealth.

Hundreds of lawyers ‘Talk to the Hill’ seeking more funding for civil legal aid

US Rep. Clark, AG Healey, CJ Budd join call for $41M in FY23

Assistant Speaker to the U.S. House of Representatives Katherine Clark, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, and Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Kimberly Budd led more than 800 lawyers, law students and advocates at the Talk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid, urging legislators to fund civil legal aid at $41 million in the FY23 Massachusetts state budget.

The 23rd annual lobby day for civil legal on January 27 was online for the second year due to the pandemic. COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on low-income residents has intensified the need for civil legal services and the need for an additional $6 million in FY23 funding for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, up from $35 million in FY22.

“Until we’ve conquered the coronavirus, we must continue to deal with its impacts on our society—not just medically, but legally, as well,” Chief Justice Budd said. “Just as we strive to provide necessary medical assistance to all who are affected by COVID, so we should strive to provide necessary legal assistance to all who are affected by COVID.”

Assistant Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Katherine Clark

Assistant Speaker Clark said that the pandemic “has exponentially increased the difficulties and traumas facing low-income Americans.”

“Every day, we rely on legal aid attorneys to take on cases to help protect residents in our communities—representing workers who didn’t get paid what they were owed, preventing families from being foreclosed upon or evicted, helping people navigate the unemployment claims process, working with survivors of domestic violence and that’s just the beginning,” said Attorney General Healey, who has spoken in support of civil legal aid funding for many years.

Attorney General Maura Healey

The annual Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid, held as Talk to the Hill for the second year, is hosted by the Equal Justice Coalition, a partnership of the Massachusetts Bar Association, the Boston Bar Association, and MLAC. MBA President Thomas Bond and BBA President Deborah Manus urged their members to speak out for increased funding for civil legal aid.

According to Lynne Parker, MLAC executive director, the legal aid organizations MLAC funds have turned away fewer people from receiving help in the past five years, due to recent increases in the state appropriation. However, more than 50 percent of people are still turned away.

“The network of legal services providers in Massachusetts is considered to be one of the best in the country and is a critical part of the Commonwealth’s social safety net,” Parker said. “We can and we must do better” to fund them.

Louis Tompros, chair of the EJC and a partner at WilmerHale, said that the Massachusetts State Constitution “promises to everyone in the Commonwealth that they will receive equal and equitable justice under law. And it is all of our duty—but particularly all of our duty as lawyers—to make good on that promise.”

‘There’s help out there’

Clients helped by legal aid organizations described how legal aid lawyers fought to keep them safely housed and financially secure during the pandemic.

Carol, civil legal aid client

Carol, who had been permanently disqualified from receiving SNAP benefits under the federal “three strikes rule,” said her troubles were compounded by the loss of her job during the pandemic. A legal aid lawyer with the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute successfully argued that the violations barring her from SNAP benefits were invalid and helped get her benefits reinstated in time for Thanksgiving.

“People need to know that there’s help out there and that nobody should be turned away for food,” Carol said.

Ed, civil legal aid client

Ed, an Air Force veteran and former special education teacher, said that South Coastal Counties Legal Services had saved him from eviction after he received a notice to quit from his landlord. “I was in very bad shape,” he recalled. “I immediately called legal services.”

Jean, civil legal aid client

Jean, who avoided eviction during the pandemic with the help of MetroWest Legal Services, said, “[My lawyer] was the bridge. She took my hand and said, ‘Let me cross you over.’”

(Watch Ed and Jean speak about their experiences here.)

After hearing the speakers, lawyers and advocates joined breakout rooms in their Senate districts to speak with legislators about their support for MLAC’s civil legal aid budget request.

Tompros urged everyone “as citizens, lawyers, and legislators—to make good on the promise of equal justice for those who need it.”

“To do that,” Tompros said, “we need to serve more people in need. To serve more people in need, we need more legal aid lawyers. And to have more legal aid lawyers, we need more funding for civil legal aid.”

Watch Talk to the Hill here.

Additional Coverage of Talk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid:

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MLAC’s response to Governor’s FY23 Budget

BOSTON, January 26, 2022 – Today, Governor Charlie Baker released his FY23 budget with a recommendation to fund civil legal aid at $35 million, the same amount of funding it received in the FY22 budget.

“While we are grateful to Gov. Baker for his commitment to funding civil legal aid during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, which has had such a disproportionate impact of the lives of low-income people in Massachusetts, we will work with Senators and Representatives in the Legislature to improve upon the level-funding recommendation included in the Governor’s Budget today,” said Lynne Parker, executive director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation “Since the pandemic began, civil legal aid has seen dramatic increases in the need for assistance in cases related to housing, unemployment compensation, family law, income maintenance, bankruptcy, and immigration. Even before the crisis, insufficient funding forced legal aid organizations to turn away the majority of eligible people who sought help. Recent funding increases have enabled civil legal aid organizations to reduce the percent of eligible people turned away to 57 percent, down from 64 percent five years ago.

“To meet these urgent civil legal needs, MLAC is seeking an additional $6 million in funding so more people can have equal access to justice. We will strongly urge the legislature to increase civil legal aid funding to $41 million for FY23.

“Civil legal aid is essential to protecting the safety, financial stability, and wellbeing of our most vulnerable neighbors as we enter a third year of the pandemic.”

Hundreds of lawyers will gather virtually to request increased civil legal aid funding

January 27 lobby day seeks $41M for civil legal aid in FY23

BOSTON, January 20 – Assistant Speaker to the U.S. House of Representatives Katherine Clark, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Kimberly Budd, bar association leaders, and legal aid clients will join hundreds of attorneys, law students, and advocates on Thursday, Jan. 27, at 11 a.m. for Talk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid. They will urge state legislators to support $41 million in the FY23 state budget for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation to fund organizations that provide legal advice and representation at no cost to low-income Massachusetts residents.

Talk to the Hill is the 23nd annual lobby day advocating for civil legal aid funding in Massachusetts. Held at the Massachusetts State House as Walk to the Hill for decades, the event has moved online due to the pandemic.

Assistant Speaker Clark said, “Civil legal aid has always been an essential service – but never has it been more critical to support the needs of our low-income community members than during the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m grateful to the Equal Justice Coalition for their leadership and eager to join ‘Talk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid’ to discuss Congress’ work to ensure that every person in the Commonwealth has access to the legal support services they need.”

Attorney General Healey said, “Legal aid is a lifeline for our most vulnerable neighbors, and it has become even more critical during the pandemic. Many people continue to face serious challenges related to housing, employment, health care, personal safety and other financial and legal issues.  We are grateful to the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation and the Equal Justice Coalition for their continued advocacy for legal aid and for the residents that benefit from it every day.”

“This event is always important,” said Chief Justice Budd, “because it gives us an opportunity to address the challenges faced by people who are too often forgotten in our society – those who cannot afford a lawyer to assist them with their most basic civil legal needs. But it is especially important this year, because of the ongoing problems caused by the pandemic.”

“The need for civil legal aid has intensified during the pandemic, particularly in housing, unemployment, benefits, family law, and immigration,” said Lynne Parker, executive director of MLAC. “Low-income people and particularly low-income people of color are among the groups that have been most severely affected by the pandemic, and civil legal aid is essential to preserving their health, safety, and security.”

After the speaking program, lawyers and advocates will meet in virtual breakout rooms with state legislators about the critical need to increase civil legal aid funding by $6 million, for a total of $41 million in the FY23 state budget.

LIST OF SPEAKERS
– Katherine Clark, Assistant Speaker, U.S. House of Representatives, 5th District of MA
– Attorney General Maura Healey
– Chief Justice Kimberly Budd, Supreme Judicial Court
– Thomas M. Bond, President of the Massachusetts Bar Association
– Deborah J. Manus, President of the Boston Bar Association
– Lynne Parker, Executive Director, Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation
– Jacquelynne J. Bowman, Executive Director, Greater Boston Legal Services
– Legal aid clients who received help during the pandemic will share how legal aid assisted them and their families
– Host: Louis Tompros, Chair, Equal Justice Coalition

Media are welcome to attend the speaking program and the virtual event is open to the public. Please register by January 25 at https://ejctalktothehill.org/.

About the EJC
The Equal Justice Coalition is a collaboration of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, Boston Bar Association, and Massachusetts Bar Association working to increase state funding for civil legal aid.

www.equaljusticecoalition.org
@equaljusticema
#IWalkforJustice

Three law firms and UMass Law win awards for legal aid advocacy

EJC recognizes exceptional participation at the Talk to the Hill

The Equal Justice Coalition has recognized three law firms and UMass Law School for their outstanding participation in the 2021 Talk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid.

The award winners are:

Morgan Lewis, winner of the Highest Participation Award

WilmerHale, winner of the Exceptional Support Award

Meehan Boyle, winner of the Nancy King Award

WilmerHale, winner of the Team Advocacy Award

UMass Law, winner of the Highest Participation for a Law School Award

Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid is an annual lobby day for increased funding for civil legal aid organizations through the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation line item. Last January, the event was virtual and called “Talk to the Hill.” Nearly 1,000 attorneys and law students participated in the virtual lobby day to ask legislators to increase the state appropriation for civil legal aid. The Commonwealth ultimately included the requested increase of $6 million, appropriating $35 million for civil legal aid in FY22.

This year’s lobby day will be held online January 27, 2022, at 11 a.m. Participants can register online. The speaking program includes U.S. Representative Katherine Clark, Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Kimberly Budd, and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. Clients will also share how civil legal aid helped them overcome challenging circumstances during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lawyers, advocates, and law students will have the opportunity to speak with their legislators to lobby for $41 million in civil legal aid funding in FY23.

“We are so grateful to members of the private bar for their longstanding support for civil legal aid and equal access to justice for all,” said Lynne Parker, executive director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation. “COVID-19 continues to have such a devastating and disproportionate effect on low-income people. Civil legal aid helps to ensure their health, safety, and financial stability during these perilous times.”

About the Award Winners:

Morgan Lewis won the Highest Participation Award, with 80 lawyers from the firm attending the 2021 Walk to the Hill.

WilmerHale received the Exceptional Support Award in recognition of having the second largest group of lawyers attend, with a total of 47 participants.

Meehan Boyle received the Nancy King for bringing the largest percentage of law firm employees to the Talk. The award is named for Nancy King, a longtime legal aid attorney in Boston who passed away in 2007.

WilmerHale earned the Team Advocacy Award, which is given to the law firm that visits the most legislative offices during the Talk to the Hill.

UMass Law received the Highest Participation for a Law School Award, with 26 students at the Dartmouth-based school attending the 2021 Walk to the Hill.

 About the EJC
The Equal Justice Coalition is a collaboration of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance CorporationBoston Bar Association, and Massachusetts Bar Association, working to increase state funding for civil legal aid.
www.equaljusticecoalition.org
@equaljusticema
#IWalkforJustice

MLAC praises $6M increase for civil legal aid in House Ways & Means Budget

Impact of pandemic on low-income people heightens urgency of civil legal aid

BOSTON, April 14, 2021 – Today, the House Ways and Means Committee presented its Fiscal Year 2022 budget, including $35 million to fund civil legal aid through the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, line item 0321-1600. That is a $6 million increase over FY21.

“We are extremely grateful to House Speaker Ronald Mariano and House Ways and Means Chair Aaron Michlewitz for their leadership in providing critical increased funding for civil legal aid, an essential service that safeguards vulnerable people at risk of losing their housing, income, benefits, and other necessary protections,” said Lynne Parker, executive director of MLAC, noting that the funding increase is an important recognition of the profound impact COVID-19 has had on low-income people in Massachusetts. “COVID-19 has not just threatened the lives and livelihood of the most vulnerable people in our communities. In many cases it has also limited their ability to reach out for civil legal aid protections and use the technology necessary to participate in remote court proceedings. Legal aid organizations have been engaged and innovative in responding to this urgent need,” Parker said.

Parker also thanked members of the House for their support of this increased funding, noting that they have seen firsthand during the pandemic how attorneys in civil legal aid organizations across the state have helped their constituents in crisis.

She praised the Equal Justice Coalition, which has championed the essential work of civil legal aid, including the Massachusetts Bar Association, the Boston Bar Association, the Women’s Bar Association, managing partners of many of the state’s largest law firms, and advocates with social services organizations across the Commonwealth.

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Massachusetts State House

Civil Legal Aid Needs Rise Due to Pandemic Impacts

Altered Landscape Fuels Push for $6 Mil State Aid Bump

The state’s largest funder of civil legal aid services is asking lawmakers to increase state funding by 20 percent in the fiscal 2022 budget to help fund services for low-income residents facing legal issues in areas like housing, employment, education, and government benefits.

Lawmakers and representatives from several of the state’s civil legal aid corporations gathered on Zoom Tuesday to press for the $6 million increase in the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation line item (0321-1600). Second Division Chair Rep. Ruth Balser said the Legislature “is deeply committed” to civil legal aid.

“There is no justice if people without means cannot protect themselves in our courts … and MLAC and the services they provide always help people who face unemployment issues, housing eviction issues, health care access issues, immigration issues, [and] domestic violence issues,” the Newton Democrat said during a virtual briefing. “I do have to say that while we always deeply appreciate the work of our friends in the legal services, nothing has been like the challenge they’ve faced during this pandemic.”…

Read more in State House News Service (subscription required).