Legal Services Corporation
The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) is a private, nonprofit organization established by Congress in 1974 to provide financial support for legal assistance in civil matters to people who are poor (Legal Services Corporation Act of 1974, 42 U.S.C.A. § 2996 et seq.). The LSC receives funds from Congress and makes grants to local nonprofit programs run by boards of directors made up of local lawyers, community leaders, and client representatives. LSC support is the backbone of legal aid funding in the United States. The organization has attracted opposition from fiscal conservatives who wish to abolish it.
The federal government began to make direct grants to legal aid organizations in 1965, during President Lyndon B. Johnson's war on poverty. Studies revealed that states were doing an inadequate job of providing legal assistance to people who were poor, especially in the South, the Southwest, and much of the Midwest. The LSC was established in 1974, during the Nixon administration, to establish a structure for distributing funds to qualified local providers of legal aid that was permanent and immune to political pressure.
The LSC is governed by an 11-member board of directors, appointed by the president of the United States with the advice and consent of the Senate. No more than six members may be of one political party, and at least two members must be eligible clients. Through its Office of Field Services and its regional offices, the LSC distributes grants to legal services programs operating in neighborhood offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Micronesia. Only 3 percent of its budget is spent on the administration costs for the home office; the rest goes to community programs.
The LSC supports local legal aid programs through training, research, sharing of information, and technical assistance. It also funds 16 national support centers that provide specialized assistance to attorneys in representing their clients. Most of these support centers specialize in substantive areas of the law, such as housing, administrative benefits, and health. Others specialize in the unique legal problems of particular groups, such as Native Americans, migrant farm workers, immigrants, and older people. Staff
members of the support centers may become directly involved in litigation on behalf of their clients.
General research is conducted by the LSC Institute on Legal Assistance. The institute is devoted to substantive study of the broad range of legal problems encountered by poor people that relate to the services provided by legal aid programs. The research projects of the institute fall into five broad categories: problems posing the most serious consequences to people who are poor, such as income security and health benefit programs; gaps in substantive poverty law, such as rural issues; studies of agencies that provide benefits to people who are poor, such as WELFARE agencies and public hospitals; projects to prevent legal controversies and to create new procedures for settling disputes; and ways to evaluate how special legal institutions such as housing and small-claims court affect people who are poor. The institute also conducts seminars and holds meetings on these topics and others that deal with the effect of the law on poor people.
The LSC 2003 budget of $338.8 million funds 161 local legal services and is designed to benefit some 5 million, mostly children living in poverty.
The LSC has been under attack for many years by conservative politicians and other groups that allege that the legal aid programs it funds have engaged in political and LOBBYING activities, often at the expense of providing legal services needed by people who are poor. Critics argue that the LSC has been the legal pillar of the welfare state, opposing efforts by conservatives to rein in government programs. Congressional Republicans have sought either to drastically reduce funding of the LSC or to abolish the LSC altogether. Congress allocated $415 million for the program in 1995, compared with $338.8 million in 2003.
In 2000, the LSC approved a document entitled Strategic Directions 2000–2005. The goals of the strategy include dramatic increases in the provision of legal services to eligible persons and assurance that eligible clients receive appropriate and high quality legal assistance. Strategies for achieving these goals include use of state planning, technology, and improved program oversight.
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