Programs that provide free legal aid to the poor are laying off employees, cutting services and increasingly turning away people who need assistance, as slashed budgets face deeper cuts, reports USA Today. One expert calls it a “dire situation.” Legal aid programs provide representation in civil cases related to domestic violence, foreclosures, child custody issues and similar matters. The Constitution guarantees legal representation if a person cannot afford to hire a lawyer in criminal cases, but in civil cases people are on their own.
Congress cut funding for the Legal Services Corp., an umbrella non-profit group that distributes grants to 136 programs on the state level, by $15.8 million, about 4% of the program’s most recent budget, in the spring. The House Appropriations Committee has proposed slashing an additional $104 million for fiscal 2012, rolling back funding to $300 million — a level not seen since 1999. The number of people eligible, based on income levels, for LSC programs across the country has gone up 27% since 2007. About 64 million people qualify.