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Monday, May 13, 2013

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 32 years under annual appropriations laws. In addition, since FY1996, all of the LSC appropriations laws have included language that restricts the activities of LSC grantees.

For FY2012, the LSC appropriation was $348 million. On January 29, 2013, President Obama signed into law the Hurricane Sandy Disaster Relief Bill (H.R. 152, P.L. 113-2). It included $1 million for the LSC to provide assistance to low-income people in areas significantly affected by the super storm. For FY2013, P.L. 113-6 directs LSC to re-examine its headquarters structure and identify areas of duplication for consolidation or elimination in an effort to provide a more efficient and cost-saving structure, and send more funding to those in the field in need of LSC services. LSC is required to report these findings to the Committees on Appropriations within 90 days of enactment. In addition, a technical change to the allocation formula for basic field grants is included to reflect the shift in how the Census Bureau collects poverty data. The technical change allows reallocation of funding every three years. P.L. 113-6 also provides a two-year phase-in of the changes. Although P.L. 113-6 includes a total of $358 million for the LSC for FY2013, that sum does not take into account the 0.2% across-the-board rescission included in P.L. 113-6, nor does it include the sequestration of funds that took effect on March 1, 2013.

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 2011, the LSC funded 136 local programs/grantees in 915 offices employing 4,097 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 2011, 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, 27% were non- Hispanic black, almost 8% were of other races, and about 18% were Hispanic. In 2011, LSC grantees closed 899,817 cases involving issues primarily related to families (divorce, child support, etc.), housing, income maintenance, consumer finance, 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 43% of all funding for civil legal services for the poor in the United States.

Date of Report: April 23, 2013
Number of Pages: 23
Order Number: RL34016
Price: $29.95

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