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31 AGs in states and territories are calling on US Congress to fund Legal Service Corp

Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo V. Ale [SN file photo]
AG Talauega is one of the 31

Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo V. Ale has joined thirty-one attorneys general in the states and territories calling on the US Congress to provide funding to the Legal Service Corporation, an independent federal agency, which allocates funds to legal aid entities in the nation including the American Samoa Legal Aid office.

Early this year, President Donald Trump announced plans to submit its proposed fiscal year 2018 funding, that would eliminate federal money to some independent federal agencies such as LSC, which early this week sent its proposed FY 2018 budget document directly to Congressional appropriation committees for consideration.

In the May 22nd letter to top leaders of the Congressional budget committees, Talauega and his colleagues point out that as attorneys general, “we write in united, bipartisan opposition” to the administration’s proposal to eliminate all federal funding for LSC and legal services for rural and low-income Americans.

They noted that for more than 40 years, under Republican and Democratic administrations, LSC “has helped our residents to access justice.” For example, funding helps veterans and military families secure important benefits, it supports survivors of domestic violence seeking safety, and it assists families facing foreclosure and victims of natural disasters.

LSC funding also fosters longstanding and useful public-private partnerships between legal aid organizations and private firms and attorneys nationwide who donate their time and skills to assist low-income residents.

“At a time of constrained state budgetary resources, federal funding plays an increasingly critical role in the provision of these services,” the letter says and urges the administration to reconsider its proposal and maintain the federal government’s longstanding commitment to legal services for families and communities in need.

Other attorneys general who signed on to the letter are from states such as Alaska, California, Hawai’i, Northern Mariana Islands, New York, Oregon and Washington State.

The letter comes a few days after LSC submitted directly to Congressional appropriation committee leaders last week its FY 2018 budget request, because of Trump’s move to eliminate LSC funding.

LSC’s 103-page funding request calls for $527.8 million for FY 2018 “because of the overwhelming need for civil legal services” in the US and the LSC’s bipartisan board of directors “determined that the need to increase the number of households served by legal aid is dire.”

The proposed budget is a $25.1 million increase from FY 2017 request, according to the LSC’s budget proposal cover letter signed by LSC president Jim Sandman, who noted that the increased amount will enable LSC grantees to serve 3.35% more people in FY 2018 than in FY 2016.

Currently, 60.6 million Americans, or almost 20% of the U.S. population, are eligible for LSC-funded legal aid services nationwide. The income eligibility requirement — 125% of the federal poverty guideline — is $15,075 for an individual and $30,750 for a family of four in 2017.

Of the total budget request, $491 million proposed for “basic field grants” to fund the day-to-day operations of legal aid organizations, according to the budget document, which shows LSC seeking $302,622 for American Samoa in FY 2018 and this is an increase of $85,671 from FY 2017.

Among the programs for funding is the Technology Initiatives Grants program, in which $5 million is been requested. LSC says this program plays a major role in expanding access to justice.

LSC also cited examples of programs, which were allocated funds in FY 2016 under the TIG program. For example, in American Samoa, it was the “expanded access for remote populations” with $61,740. LSC explained that American Samoa Legal Aid’s All-Island Access to Legal Aid project would allow residents of the isolated Manu’a Islands to gain access to legal aid services. This project is a partnership to establish four interview locations on three separate islands, each with a desktop computer, scanner/printer, and Internet access.

“This technology will increase service levels across American Samoa,” LSC explained.