To the Editor:
The Donald Trump administration proposes to eliminate the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), which has provided federal funding for civil legal aid since 1974. If this terrible proposal becomes reality, Pine Tree Legal Assistance here in Maine, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, would lose $1.4 million, almost one-quarter of its budget.
Pine Tree provides free legal aid to help low-income and vulnerable veterans, elders, children and families. When these Mainers are involved in civil legal cases (as opposed to criminal cases) the law does not require that they must have a court-appointed lawyer. LSC provides federal funds so that when their livelihood, health and families are on the line, they have representation and a fair shot.
Civil legal aid makes fiscal sense and is a good investment. For example, everyone benefits when someone remains housed. Housing stabilizes families and helps them remain self-sufficient, ultimately saving taxpayers’ money. The public costs of sheltering families that become homeless are significant, as are the increased costs of providing public assistance, transitional housing and health care for families in crisis. Helping survivors of domestic violence reduces shelter costs. Early legal interventions prevent more serious problems down the road.
Gutting civil legal aid would devastate low-income families and vulnerable people in Maine and throughout the U.S. Especially hard hit would be rural areas, where legal help is scarce.
Funding for LSC is a minuscule slice of the federal budget – roughly one-hundredth of one percent. However, eliminating it would be devastating to many. Our nation’s extremely modest investment in LSC is an essential building block for assuring social stability and fairness in the justice system.
Across our nation, civil legal aid has long enjoyed broad bipartisan support for a reason: Americans believe in justice for all, not just for those who can afford it.
I urge all readers to contact U.S. Sens. Collins and King and U.S. Reps. Pingree and Poliquin about this important issue.
William Robitzek, President
Maine Justice Foundation