New report sheds light on an under-used strategy

By Danielle M. Reyes, Program Officer, the Meyer Foundation

As we work to address the needs of District families living in poverty, support for direct services and advocacy efforts related to employment, education, housing, immigration, and health and mental health are often top priorities.  Legal issues do not often make this list, yet the consequences of unaddressed civil legal problems can have a devastating impact on the communities we care about. 

justiceforall

Insufficient legal services leave many low-income individuals and families facing crises including eviction proceedings, domestic violence, bankruptcy, wrongful termination of employment, medical debt, and deportation.  Less than 10 percent of the  legal services needs of DC residents are currently being met.

At a recent funders’ briefing held at the Meyer Foundation, Sunil Mansukhani, the executive director of the Access to Justice Commission, spoke to these complex issues and shared other key findings from the Commission’s newest report, Justice for All? An Examination of the Civil Legal Needs of the District of Columbia’s Low-Income Community. It is the most comprehensive report ever done on the legal needs in the District of Columbia and presents not only challenges, but opportunities.  DC is a city rich with legal expertise, and there is significant and untapped potential in deploying legal services and an opportunity to create a legal services network that can not only address the immediate needs of families, but also reform policies that directly impact low-income communities.

As we explore ways to meet the needs of low-income communities, Justice for All? offers us new information and clear recommendations towards a more comprehensive approach to reducing poverty. 

The open funders’ briefing of the “Justice for All?” report was hosted by the Meyer Foundation, the DC Bar Foundation, and the Access to Justice Commission on Dec. 3.  For more information contact Sunil.Mansukhani@dcaccesstojustice.org.

2 thoughts on “New report sheds light on an under-used strategy”

  1. Thanks to Danielle for sharing this report. The Center for Law and Social Policy is also encouraging policymakers to think about civil legal assistance as an important support for low-income individuals, noting that:

    “Civil legal assistance for low-income people is crucial to ensure our nation’s promise of “equal
    justice under the law.” Legal aid is crucially important to ensure fundamental fairness as well as
    to dealing with the specific legal issues faced by low-income people in areas including family
    stability and domestic violence, housing, consumer, health, employment and income supports,
    and racial equity. Studies have shown that of all the support services available to victims of
    domestic violence, only access to legal assistance decreases the likelihood that women will be
    battered again.”

    Specifically, CLASP’s FEDERAL POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS FOR 2009 AND BEYOND calls on Congress to “Increase the LSC [Legal Services Corporation] 2009 appropriation to $390 million and substantially increase LSC appropriations in subsequent years to reach $750 million; eliminate the 1996 restrictions imposed on LSC grantees; appoint a new Board of Directors for LSC that supports these priorities and improves the quality of civil legal assistance.”

    An extended discussion of CLASP’s legislative recommendations can be found in the full report:
    http://www.clasp.org/publications/clasp__fedpolicyrecommendationsfor2009andbeyond.pdf

  2. At a recent meeting of Larger Community Foundations the importance of funding legal services within the category of “safety-net” organizations, was emphasized.

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