The nation's providers of civil legal assistance for the poor could face more staffing reductions and provide services to fewer people if Congress is unable to resolve its latest budget crisis by March 1.
Unless Congress comes up with a last-minute deal next week to avoid $85 billion in automatic and arbitrary forced cuts, called sequestration, the Legal Services Corp. will suffer a 5 percent across-the-board cut to its annual funding, agency president Jim Sandman said. Those cuts would follow two years of steep cuts to LSC funding.
The new cuts would mean a $16.3 million cut to grants to the nation's civil legal services providers, Sandman said. The reductions would first affect payments in April. Since LSC is well into its current budget year, the monthly checks would be reduced 7.4 percent.
LSC, the largest source of funding nationwide for civil legal aid, conducted a webinar with agencies earlier this week detailing the nuts and bolts of the potential for cuts. Each state has different ways to add other funding to the programs, so each of the 134 agencies relying on LSC grants would be affected differently by the cuts.
LSC provides grants averaging about 30 percent of the budgets for seven New York state agencies. Those agencies helped 73,409 adults and 50,501 children last year.
The sequestration cuts "would be a big hit," said Raun Rasmussen, executive director of Legal Services NYC, which stands to lose $717,000 of its $14.4 million LSC allocation.
The group, which has a total budget of $40 million, would lose an additional $200,000 in federal grant money from sources other than LSC such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, IRS, and the Department of Justice for advice about foreclosure, taxes and domestic violence.
Finally, aside from sequestration, the group had been on track to lose 30 percent of its funding in the next two years due to regular, 10-year redistributions of funding based on the U.S. Census.
The Utica-based Legal Aid Society of Mid-New York gets 45 percent of its budget from LSC, meaning it stands to lose $95,778 from sequestration. It is now considering ways to make up those lost funds.
"We don't have much control over this," said Paul Lupia, the agency's executive director. "We hope that Congress and the president reach an agreement that doesn't affect us as deeply as sequestration cuts would."