From AFJ’s Nonprofit and Foundation Advocacy Blog:
The members of Congress who are listed below will decide this week whether to end rules that greatly restrict access to justice for Americans who rely on legal aid.Call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202)224-3121 TODAY and tell them it is time to remove the unjust restrictions on funds Legal Services Corporation grantees receive from other sources.
Members of the House and Senate Conference Committee
Mikulski (D-MD), Chair, Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies
Shelby (R-AL), Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies
Inouye (D-HI), Chair, Committee on Appropriations
Cochran (R-MS), Vice Chair, Committee on Appropriations
House of Representatives
Mollohan (D-WV), Chair, Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies
Wolf (R-VA), Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies
Obey (D-WI), Chair, Committee on Appropriations
Lewis (R-CA), Ranking Member, Committee on Appropriations
Nearly 200 independent, nonprofit organizations around the country provide legal aid to poor Americans in civil cases with some funding from the federal government. Federal money appropriated for civil legal aid organizations is distributed through the Legal Services Corporation (LSC).
As part of Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America,” federal restrictions were imposed on organizations receiving funding from LSC, and have been attached to every federal appropriation for LSC since 1996.
These restrictions limit the tools lawyers at LSC-funded programs can use when representing their clients. The worst of these include: prohibiting LSC-funded programs from participating in class actions, seeking attorneys’ fees, or advocating before administrative or legislative bodies for policy reform. The restrictions also make certain groups of people ineligible for legal representation from LSC-funded programs entirely, including some groups of documented immigrants, all undocumented immigrants, and people in prison.
However, the restrictions go much further and block organizations from using any other funds – such as individual donations, foundation grants, and state and local government funds – for any service or activity that they are barred from providing with LSC dollars.
Those Who Rely on Legal Aid Hurt When Their Lawyers’ Hands are Tied
People who rely on LSC-funded programs to receive justice lose when the legal organizations set up to help them cannot use non-federal funds to provide services or advocate for changes in laws and policies.
Legal aid programs should be treated the same as other nonprofits, but they are not. Nonprofits that receive part of their funding from LSC are treated much more stringently than most other government-funded nonprofits, including faith-based organizations. These additional restrictions are out of step with important public-private partnership efforts and result in different rules for LSC-funded organizations than other government-funded entities.
In many states, grantees have had to set up entirely separate organizations and law offices, funded by state and local public funders and private charitable sources, to do the work that LSC-funded programs cannot do. This results in wasteful duplication of overhead, personnel and administrative costs. Federal dollars that could finance more services for clients are also eaten up by the costs of running duplicate offices.
Legislation Before Congress Could End Restrictions on Non-Federal Funds
You can help remove the burdensome, unfair restrictions on the use of non-LSC funds by supporting legislation that is currently before Congress.
This year’s Senate Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill would lift the worst restrictions on LSC grantees’ non-federal funds. This legislation would allow nonprofits to use their non-federal funds as they and their funders choose.
House and Senate subcommittee chairs are talking this week about resolving differences between two bills: one that has passed the House (which does not do enough to remove restrictions on non-federal funds) and a stronger bill moving through the Senate. These members of Congress are meeting in a rare “pre-conference” committee session, in anticipation of passage of the Senate’s bill next week.
Tell the House and Senate members meeting in the pre-conference committee it is time to remove the unjust restrictions on funds Legal Services Corporation grantees receive from other sources.
Let them know you strongly support the current language in this year’s Senate Commerce, Justice, Science appropriations bill repealing the restriction on non-federal funds. Call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202)224-3121 and ask to speak to your Senator or Member of Congress.