NLDA Legal Aid News sends out the bad news:
Last night House and Senate conferees agreed to a spending package that would fund the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) at $348,000,000 for FY 2012. This figure represents a reduction in overall funding for LSC of $56,190,000, or 13.9 percent. The entire cut comes from funding for basic field programs, amounting to 14.8 percent of the critical funding used by LSC grantees to provide access to justice in the United States. The figure represents a split in half of the difference between the level the Senate appropriated for FY 2012 of $396.1 million and the House level of $300 million. . . . .
The package is expected to pass the House and Senate this week. The Conference Report containing the agreements is not open to amendment on either the House or Senate floor. Thus, the LSC figure contained with the Report is likely to be the final spending figure for FY 2012. (bold added)
Frankly, this is worse than I expected. For states that rely mainly on LSC money, this means an almost 15% reduction in funding. For those states with heavy non-LSC money, it means an additional cut on top of the collapse in IOLTA funding.
Beyond the immediate sadness of potential staff cuts and unserved clients in need, the worst impact may be that these cuts will force programs into an even more cost-focused mode, rather than one that looks at the overall efficiency of delivery itself, and how to deploy resources creatively to expand access. The mid-90s were in part a time of creativity — most of the access commissions owe their existence at least in part to the steps that were taken then. The hope is that the community (now a far broader one), will find a similar creative energy. Moreover, the pressures on the bar and on the courts mean that the incentives are aligned for all players to have interests in simplification and improving access by changing the underling operations of the courts themselves. In the case of the courts, this is even further advanced by Turner, and the opportunity it provides for states to review the accessibility of their procedures.
Let me also urge the access community to find funding mechanisms that are counter-cyclical — that go up when the economy goes down, rather than vice versa.
While its hard to think creatively when blows like this come, it is even more important now.