Search Penny Hill Press

Thursday, June 7, 2012

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., noncriminal) 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 31 years under annual appropriations laws. On November 17, 2011, the House and the Senate passed the conference report on H.R. 2112 (H.Rept. 112-284). President Obama signed H.R. 2112 into law (P.L. 112-55) on November 18, 2011. P.L. 112-55 (the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2012) funded the LSC at $348 million for FY2012. The FY2012 appropriation for the LSC, $348 million, is 13.9% less than the FY2011 LSC appropriation of $404.2 million, 22.7% less than the Administration’s budget request, 16% more than the House committee’s recommendation, and 12.1% less than the amount passed by the Senate. In addition, since FY1996, all of the LSC appropriations laws have included language that restricts the activities of LSC grantees. The LSC appropriation for FY2012 included existing restrictions on LSC activities.

For FY2013, the Obama Administration requested $402.0 million for the LSC. This amount is $54.0 million (15.5%) above the FY2012 appropriation of $348.0 million for the LSC. The Senate Committee on Appropriations recommended $402 million for the LSC for FY2013. The House-passed appropriations bill (H.R. 5326) for Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) recommended $328 million for the LSC for FY2013.

The LSC statute requires that poverty population data from the most recent decennial census be used to distribute LSC funds. Due to changes in the data sets obtained by the 2010 decennial census, information needed by the LSC is no longer available. On September 19, 2011, the LSC Board recommended several changes to resolve the issue and improve distribution of LSC funds.

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 2010, the LSC funded 136 local programs/grantees in 919 offices employing 4,350 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 2010, 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, 26% were non- Hispanic black, almost 9% were of other races, and about 19% were Hispanic. In 2010, LSC grantees closed 932,406 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 44% of all funding for civil legal services for the poor in the United States.

Date of Report: May 23, 2012
Number of Pages: 21
Order Number: RL34016
Price: $29.95

Follow us on TWITTER at or #CRSreports

Document available via e-mail as a pdf file or in paper form.
To order, e-mail Penny Hill Press or call us at 301-253-0881. Provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.