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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Legal Services Corporation: Background and Funding

Carmen Solomon-Fears
Specialist in Social Policy

The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) is a private, nonprofit, federally funded corporation that helps provide legal assistance to low-income people in civil (i.e., non-criminal) matters. The primary responsibility of the LSC is to manage and oversee the congressionally appropriated federal funds that it distributes in the form of grants to local legal services providers, which in turn give legal assistance to low-income clients in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. territories of Guam and the Virgin Islands, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and Micronesia (including the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and Palau).

Although the authorization of appropriations for the LSC expired at the end of FY1980, the LSC has operated for the past 30 years under annual appropriations laws. The LSC is currently funded at $420 million for FY2010 (P.L. 111-117; enacted December 16, 2009). Moreover, P.L. 111-117 continues existing limitations on the use of LSC funds (and non-LSC funds) except for the restriction on the ability of LSC-funded programs to collect attorneys’ fees. On December 22, 2010, President Obama signed into law the Continuing Appropriations and Surface Transportation Extensions Act, 2011 (H.R. 3082; P.L. 111-322). The act continues appropriations for the LSC at the FY2010 enacted level (i.e., $420 million) until March 4, 2011. Current LSC funding now surpasses the LSC’s previous highest funding level of $400 million in FY1994 and FY1995.

Under the LSC’s competitive process, legal services providers in every jurisdiction bid to become the LSC grantee for a designated service area in a state. During 2009, the LSC funded 136 local programs/grantees in 918 offices employing about 4,200 attorneys. Local programs establish their own eligibility criteria, in which clients served may not have income that exceeds 125% of the federal poverty guidelines. In 2009, 71% of LSC clients were females and 29% were males. The majority of LSC clients (85%) were between the ages of 18 and 59, 13% were age 60 or older, and 2% were under the age of 18. Almost 47% of LSC clients were non-Hispanic white, 25% were non-Hispanic black, 9% were of other races, and 20% were Hispanic. In 2009, LSC grantees closed 920,447 cases involving issues primarily related to families (divorce, child support, etc.), housing, consumer finance, income maintenance, and health.

Although the LSC is the largest single source of funding for the civil legal services system in the United States, it is not the only source of funding. Local legal services programs supplement their LSC grants with funds from a variety of governmental and private sources. LSC funding accounts for 42% of all funding for civil legal services for the poor in the United States.

Date of Report: January 11, 2011
Number of Pages: 18
Order Number: RL34016
Price: $29.95

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