United States Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, Associate Attorney General Tony West, White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler, and other leaders of the legal community gathered in Washington, DC on April 8 for the "White House Forum on Increasing Access to Justice," the third such event LSC has co-hosted with the White House. Tina Tchen, Chief of Staff to the First Lady; James Silkenat, ABA President; and Glenn Rawdon, LSC Program Counsel, also spoke at the event, which was held in conjunction with the LSC Board's quarterly meeting.
In his opening remarks, LSC Board Chairman John G. Levi discussed the challenges facing civil legal aid and identified an important objective for LSC and its grantees: "Our goal, quite simply, is to provide all low-income Americans some form of effective assistance with essential civil legal needs."
Among the highlights of the Forum:
Associate Attorney General West announced the launch of the "Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable Toolkit," an online guide to ways in which civil legal services can enhance federal strategies for serving vulnerable and underserved populations.
Rawdon, a specialist in technology issues at LSC, discussed ways technology can improve the delivery of civil legal assistance in a speech that Richard Zorza, former coordinator of the national Self Represented Litigation Network, called "visionary." Drawing from LSC’s "Report of the Summit on the Use of Technology to Expand Access to Justice," Rawdon discussed five main components of a strategy to make optimal use of technology as a tool for access to justice.
HOUSE SUBCOMMITTEE MARKS UP SPENDING BILL;
LSC, WHITE HOUSE SUBMIT BUDGETS
On April 30, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies marked up its appropriations bill for FY 2015. The subcommittee provided $350 million for LSC, $319,650,000 of which is for basic field programs. Last year, the same subcommittee approved only $300 million for FY 2014. The following chart compares by line item the House mark for FY 2014, current funding, and the House proposed FY 2015 levels.
In March, LSC asked Congress for $486 million for FY 2015, the same level of funding it requested the year before. "Our request to Congress balances record-high demand for civil legal aid against the realities of the federal budget environment," said LSC President James J. Sandman. Nearly 93 percent of the request, more than $451 million, would be devoted to basic field grants that fund the delivery of civil legal assistance to low-income Americans. The budget request also proposed $5 million for Technology Initiative Grants; $1 million for student loan repayment assistance to legal aid lawyers; $19.5 million for management and grants oversight; and $4.2 million for the Office of Inspector General.
LSC also proposed $5 million to expand a Pro Bono Innovation Fund, an initiative created by Congress in FY 2014. This fund supports new and innovative projects that promote and enhance pro bono initiatives throughout the country. The national Pro Bono Task Force convened by LSC's Board of Directors urged the creation of a Pro Bono Innovation Fund in its 2012 report.
The White House recommended $430 million in funding for the LSC in its budget delivered to Congress on March 4. That is the same amount it requested last year.
The President's budget also contains a new $56 billion "Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative," to be paid for through a series of tax loophole closures and various spending reforms. The new initiative includes additional funding for LSC. "The President clearly understands the importance of adequately funding civil legal assistance, even in these tough financial times," said LSC Board Chairman John G. Levi. "I am grateful that he has proposed a nearly 18 percent increase over current funding and has included us in his new budget initiative."
LSC SEEKS APPLICATIONS FOR NEW PRO BONO INNOVATION FUND
On April 24, LSC released the 2014 Notice of Funds Availability for its new $2.5 million Pro Bono Innovation Fund.
LSC is seeking applications from LSC grantees to support the development of new and more robust pro bono efforts and partnerships that effectively serve more low-income people. The application deadline is June 30, 2014.
LSC LAUNCHES GIS MAPPING WEBINARS
LSC and the Legal Services National Technology Assistance Project (LSNTAP), a technology support center for legal aid organizations operated by Northwest Justice Project, have launched a collaborative webinar series on Geographic Information System (GIS) Mapping. GIS Maps, which display data geographically, can help legal aid organizations understand trends in their data and take appropriate action.
The first webinar, which took place April 23, provided an overview with examples of effective maps used by LSC grantees. Bill Kennedy from Legal Services of Northern California demonstrated a series of maps for advocacy, and Dave Sobie from Legal Aid of North Carolina presented maps for organizational planning. Jonathan Pyle from Philadelphia Legal Assistance reviewed maps that helped his organization evaluate their effectiveness in serving different client populations. Throughout the webinar, the presenters stressed that legal aid organizations should be willing to experiment with mapping. A number of the maps featured were created in under an hour, and still had a tremendous impact on the organizations.