Ohio’s legal aid programs are continuing to provide critical civil legal services despite drastic reductions in both federal and state-based funding for 2012.
In late November of 2011, Congress voted to cut the fiscal year 2012 federal funding for legal aid programs by almost 15 percent. The cut amounts to a loss of about $1.4 Million in federal funding for Ohio legal aid programs. The federal funding represented by the Congressional appropriation to the Legal Services Corporation supplies about a quarter of the funding for Ohio’s legal aid programs.
On the state level, legal aid programs are funded through interest on lawyer and title agent trust accounts, known as IOLTA and IOTA accounts. As interest rates remain at record lows, the revenue generated by these accounts has likewise plummeted. Revenue generated by IOLTA and IOLTA accounts dropped about 75 percent between 2007 and 2010, but the decline between 2010 and 2011 was not as steep as in previous years.
As a result, some Ohio legal aid programs were forced to lay off staff in 2011, and some programs may have to lay off staff in 2012. Nearly every legal aid program either froze salaries, reduced salaries, or reduced benefits in 2011, or will do so in 2012.
At the same time, because of economic conditions and high unemployment, the number of people in Ohio eligible for services from a legal aid program rose to an all-time high. Legal aid attorneys, and pro bono lawyers who volunteer to accept cases from legal aid programs, represent Ohio’s most vulnerable people: homeless families, victims of domestic violence, veterans returning from active duty. Since 2008, legal aid lawyers and pro bono volunteer lawyers representing legal aid clients have represented low income homeowners in foreclosure cases in 87 of Ohio’s 88 counties, and have saved homes for those homeowners in half the cases.
Despite strains on resources, legal aid lawyers, staff and volunteer pro bono lawyers remain committed to the mission of legal aid to provide high quality legal services to Ohio’s low income population, and to ensure that Ohio’s most vulnerable citizens are not denied access to justice at times when it is most desperately needed.