Marilyn Odendahl for www.theindianalawyer.com
As part of the $400 billion budget deal passed by Congress early Friday morning, Legal Services Corp., which provides financial support to Indiana Legal Services, will continue to receive funding about equal to its fiscal year 2017 appropriation. The White House had once proposed completely defunding the agency.
LSC’s funding will stay at the 2017 level of $385 million until Congress finishes the appropriations process that will determine the balance of funding for the remainder of the fiscal year 2018. The deadline for the appropriations bill is March 23.
On Capitol Hill, Indiana Senators Joe Donnelly, Democrat, and Todd Young, Republican, voted for the budget measure. In the U.S. House of Representatives, the Indiana delegation split. Republicans Susan Brooks, Jim Banks, Larry Buschon, Luke Messer and Jackie Walorski along with Democrat Peter Visclosky voted yes, while Democrat Andre Carson and Republican freshman Trey Hollingsworth voted no.
Brooks, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana, has advocated for civil legal aid funding since she co-founded the Access to Legal Services Caucus in Congress about three years ago. Brooks, who was traveling, was unable to comment on how LSC could fare in the upcoming appropriations process.
LSC had requested $527.8 million for fiscal year 2018, but the 2018 budget proposal offered by President Donald Trump in March 2017 nixed all federal funding to the civil legal aid group.
At that time, Brooks pointed out, the administration’s budget was just a proposal and that Congress has the power to draft and pass the budget. Since then, the House voted to provide LSC with $300 million for fiscal year 2018 and the Senate voted to keep the appropriation the same at $385 million.
Indiana Legal Services depends on LSC money for the bulk of its annual revenue. Of the $9.71 million ILS received from all funding sources in 2016, more than two-thirds, $6.73 million, came from LSC.
The budget deal did include LSC in the $89.3 billion relief bill to help with the recovery efforts following Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria as well as the wildfires in California. LSC is set to receive $15 million. Although the agency had asked for a total of $22.5 million to help the disaster survivors with their civil legal needs, it said the amount given would help.
“We are very grateful to Congress for recognizing the important role civil legal aid plays in getting disaster survivors back on their feet,” said LSC president Jim Sandman. “The $15 million Congress appropriated to LSC for disaster legal assistance will allow people to access insurance benefits, fight wrongful evictions, and fend off consumer scams.”