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ABA, Law Firms Speak Out Against Cuts to Legal Aid

The EPA and the National Endowment for the Arts aren't the only government programs facing massive cuts under President Trump's proposed budget. In the proposal released last Thursday, the President urged Congress to fully eliminate funding to the Legal Services Corporation.

Under the proposal, the nation's largest funder of legal aid wouldn't receive a single federal cent -- a move that has plenty in the legal community fuming.

The Legal Community Defends the LSC

The LSC is a publicly funded nonprofit organization that supports legal aid services throughout the country. Founded in 1974, the LSC directs millions in federal funds towards legal programs for the poor. Its 2017 budget was $385 million, for example, making it by far the biggest source of legal aid funds in the country, supporting programs that serve nearly 2 million people every year.

After the proposed budget was released, the American Bar Association said that it was "outraged" by the call to defund the LSC. In a statement, ABA President Linda Klein noted that the LSC "provides civil legal aid to people who desperately need help to navigate the legal process. Without this assistance, court house doors will slam in the faces of millions of Americans, denying them equal access to justice."

The valuable services the LSC provides, Klein said, include "securing housing for veterans, protecting seniors from scams, delivering legal services to rural areas, protecting victims of domestic abuse and helping disaster survivors."

"More than 30 cost-benefit studies all show that legal aid delivers far more in benefits than it costs."

Those sentiments were echoed in a letter from the heads of more than 150 major law firms, covering everyone from Akerman to Wiley Rein. Without the LSC, the firms say, their ability to "provide millions of hours of free legal services" will be compromised, "vastly diminish[ing] the private bar's capacity to help" individuals in need through pro bono services.

Trump Isn't the First to Target the LSC

This isn't the first time the LSC has been targeted for cuts. President Reagan, for example, proposed eliminating all funding for the LSC in 1981. Time Magazine once wrote that "Of all the social programs growing out of the Great Society, there is none that Ronald Reagan dislikes more than the Legal Services Corporation." Newt Gingrich, too, sought to withhold all government LSC funding as part of his "Contract With America."

Reagan and Gingrich's attempts to defund the LSC were unsuccessful. Many attorneys are hoping that Trump's budget cuts share the same fate.

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