Last year, Congress slashed the Legal Services Corporation’s budget, resulting in a $900,000 loss to Bay Area Legal Aid. Although we planned ahead and prepared for a significant cut, no amount of planning can avoid the impact of such a loss.
Already we have down-sized the Legal Advice Line, which provides legal counsel and advice to over 100 callers a day and serves as the principle gateway to the comprehensive services our lawyers in San Jose, Redwood City, San Francisco, San Rafael, Napa, Richmond, and Oakland provide. We anticipate that the loss of one attorney in the LAL alone will result in answering 4,000 less calls and representing 1,000 less families next year.
Volume, by itself, is not a true measure of an effective legal services provider. On the other hand, having the capacity to effectively serve a large number of families and individuals can mean a great deal to a great number of people. Even after this most recent cut in revenue, BayLegal remains the largest provider of free legal services to the poor in the Bay Area and makes a difference in the lives of thousands of clients.
Consider the numbers: of the 32,374 families in poverty that BayLegal served last year, 10,903 women and children escaped domestic violence and were awarded $3.5 million in child support orders; 8,592 people were able to keep homes they would otherwise have lost to housing discrimination, illegal evictions, or foreclosure scams; and 5,395 people received $11.6 million in present and future health care and safety-net benefits, including food stamps, in-home support services, and foster care benefits.
These statistics, as impressive as they might be, pale in comparison to the real people and stories behind them. For example, after working for more than 30 years as a housekeeper, Gladys was forced to stop working because of renal disease. She was placed on a waiting list to receive an organ transplant, but was removed from the list when the hospital learned she had no job, income, or health insurance. After BayLegal established her eligibility for a series of benefits, including medical services, the hospital was persuaded to return her name to the transplant list; a result that never would have happened without BayLegal’s advocacy.
So what is a true measure of an effective legal services provider? One widely-accepted view is enunciated in the ABA’s Standards for the Provision of Civil Legal Aid. I am pleased to report that when an assessment team applied these standards to BayLegal’s practice in a recent evaluation, the team concluded that BayLegal provides “high-quality legal work” to its clients and that its advocacy has a “beneficial effect on systemic legal problems and economic opportunities of the eligible client population.”
We do not for a second minimize the effects the loss of LSC dollars and the diminution of each of our other funding sources will have on the scope of the services we provide, but I can assure you that we will continue to provide quality, effective legal assistance in the cases we handle. The demand for our services has always out-paced our resources; we will meet this challenge as we have all others in the past. Our clients deserve no less.
Working Together for Justice!