PLEASE SUPPORT FUNDING FOR CIVIL LEGAL AID!
Imagine being a single parent of young children, facing serious illness, loss of employment due to that illness, the consequent loss of health insurance, and an eviction, all within a few months. Daniele Bien-Aime faced all of these issues in 2011. Missing work for breast cancer treatment cost her job. That meant not only losing her income, but also the health insurance that was essential to continue chemotherapy. With no income, she couldn’t pay her rent and her landlord attempted to evict her.
Luckily, Daniele obtained legal help from a legal aid organization called South Coastal Counties Legal Services (SCCLS). Her legal aid lawyer convinced her employer to rehire her and offer time off to finish chemotherapy. The attorney also successfully negotiated a settlement with Daniele’s landlord, who dropped the eviction lawsuit. Daniele and her daughters remain in their home; she has finished her chemotherapy; and is now cancer-free and back at work.
The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) provides funding to SCCLS and other legal aid offices like it across the state. Over the past several years, funding for civil legal aid has been severely reduced, even as requests for legal assistance have escalated to unprecedented levels due to the continuing economic crisis. As a result, legal aid offices are forced to turn away at least half of the eligible people seeking their assistance .
The Senate Ways & Means FY14 budget proposal that was released last week provides only $12 million in funding for MLAC (line item #0321-1600). This level of funding is simply not enough and will force these programs to turn away even more eligible people in desperate need of legal assistance while facing complex legal problems such as homelessness, domestic violence, elder abuse, child custody, consumer fraud and denial of government benefits.
Senators Katherine Clark and Cynthia Creem have filed an amendment to the senate budget (#93) which would provide $15.5 million in funding for MLAC. The Senate begins debating its budget on Wednesday! Please call or email your state senator TODAY and urge him/her to fully support Amendment #93, and to convey that support to Senate President Therese Murray and Senate Ways & Means Chairman Stephen Brewer. Or just contact Senate President Murray and Chairman Brewer directly at Therese.Murray@masenate.gov and Stephen.Brewer@masenate.org.
Thank you for supporting civil legal aid!
Deb Silva, Director