Patrick proposes $1M more for legal aid in 2015

Patrick proposes $1M more for legal aid in 2015

Lonnie Powers, executive director of Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, applauds Gov. Patrick $1M proposal to

  • Posted on: 28 January 2014

Lonnie Powers, executive director of Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, applauds Gov. Patrick's proposal to increase legal aid funding by $1 million.

As part of his fiscal 2015 budget plan, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick has recommended a $1 million increase for civil legal assistance, an increase that could potentially benefit the state's low income residents who need legal representation.

The additional funding, part of Patrick's proposed $36.37 billion spending plan for fiscal 2015, would bring the state's allocation for civil legal aid to $14 million. The funding would go to the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corp., which makes grants to 16 civil legal aid programs statewide.

The proposed budget includes a total of $191 million in funding for public defense, which would provide legal representation to indigent persons largely in criminal matters. The public defense budget in the current fiscal year is $162 million.

"It's going to be useful, but it's nowhere near what we need," said Lonnie Powers, executive director of MLAC. Powers said that MLAC requested a $4 million increase for the 2015 fiscal year, hoping to bring the total allocation to $17 million. "We're going to continue to advocate for the full $17 million request through the House and Senate and see what we end up with. We need the full request."

Indeed, the proposed increase comes as civil legal aid programs struggle financially. The Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts, another major source of funding for civil legal aid, is expected to provide 85 percent less for legal aid in fiscal year 2014 than it did six years ago. In 2014, the IOLTA program is expected to provide $3 million in funding.

Meanwhile, the Boston Bar Association last summer convened a 27-person task force to determine the unmet need in Massachusetts for legal-aid services for low-income residents and to propose ways to respond to it. The task force is expected to release its findings and recommendations this summer.

The governor's budget proposal and the task force's work come roughly a year after the state's Supreme Judicial Court allowed lawyers who were not licensed in Massachusetts to provide pro-bono legal services to local clients. In the past, only lawyers who were licensed in Massachusetts could provide pro bono legal services here.

SOURCE: Mary Moore, Reporter- Boston Business Journal;