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Legal Aid Spending Pays Off Well in Florida

A new study in Florida shows that for every dollar spent on legal aid, the state gets back nearly seven dollars.

Commissioned by the Florida Bar Foundation, the study that said legal aid turned $83 million in funding into about $600 million in economic impact in 2015. The foundation said that legal aid organizations captured $264.3 million in benefits and income for residents, with $274.8 million going back to Florida businesses.

"Equal justice under law is not only a basic underpinning of our democracy; it's also good economic policy," said Florida Bar Foundation President Matthew G. Brenner. "This study adds to a large body of empirical data -- from Florida as well as other states -- that clearly demonstrates that society at large benefits when the rights of the poorest and most vulnerable among us are protected."

Helping the Poor

The Resource for Great Programs, which conducted the study, said legal aid provided the most assistance to Floridians in obtaining the federal benefits, child support, wages and unemployment compensation. The federal benefits included:

  • $120.6 million in Social Security benefits
  • $70.7 million in Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements
  • $2.7 million in veterans' benefits

Helping Business

The foundation report said benefits paid to residents saves money for the government, businesses, nonprofits, clients and others in various of ways. The study found that:

  • $2.9 million in costs for emergency shelter were avoided for low-income families who were able to avoid eviction or gain time to seek alternative housing.
  • $50.6 million in foreclosure costs were avoided by low-income homeowners, lenders, neighbors and local governments.
  • $6.9 million in costs associated with domestic violence were avoided.

Florida Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, in a press release, said civil legal aid helps ensure fairness in the justice system. He said many citizens fall in the legal services gap between low-wage earners and high-priced lawyers.

"They just cannot afford a lawyer at today's prices," he said. "This study shows that when they have a good way to resolve their civil legal problems, they can remain important assets to their families, on their jobs and in their communities."

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