CHICAGO – The National Association of IOLTA Programs (NAIP) warns that new funding will be needed to help legal aid organizations respond to spiking demand for legal help due to the pandemic-related economic slowdown.
NAIP represents 50 state and jurisdiction-based organizations across the United States that make grants to support legal assistance to low-income families. These state funders distribute dollars generated by sources that include Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts (IOLTA), state court filing fees, and legislative appropriations. The aggregate legal aid funding administered by these IOLTA organizations and state funders exceeded $370 million in 2018. But NAIP believes this funding will plummet in the coming months.
“The recently announced Fed rate cuts to 2008 Recession area levels (0-.25%) will have a significant negative impact on IOLTA funding at the same time that we expect to see diminished filing fee income as courts across the state are limiting their activities to essential matters and services to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. As a result, we are deeply concerned that there will be insufficient funding to support Ohio’s legal aid programs,” said Angela M. Lloyd, Executive Director of the Ohio Access to Justice Foundation, which administers funding to support civil legal services for low-income Ohioans.
NAIP President David Holtermann explained that recent discussions with member programs revealed widespread and deep concern about the economic outlook. NAIP members project their revenues will drop by as much as 75% over the next year. This will force them to sharply reduce legal aid grants just as the need for legal help from the public peaks.
“The legal aid programs supported by NAIP members are up to the challenge, but they will need additional financial support to maintain their operations and scale up their outreach during a very critical time,” according to Holtermann.
“Our legal aids are already working to support Ohioans across the state as they experience the economic distress brought on or made worse by the pandemic. The pandemic exacerbates challenges around stable housing, access to healthcare, safety from domestic abuse and financial supports to help families weather the storm. As more Ohioans are touched by this crisis, we anticipate the need for legal aid services to soar during the year ahead,” said Lloyd.
Holtermann lauded the inclusion of $50 million in additional funding for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) in the $2.2 trillion stimulus bill passed by the United States House and Senate and signed into law by President Trump last week. The additional funds will help the 132 local legal aid organizations supported by LSC to address the legal needs of low-income clients related to the pandemic. Nonetheless, this influx will fall short of what is needed to fully address the legal needs of low-income and working Americans in the coming months. LSC represents only a portion of legal aid funding in the United States, and in most states, IOLTA and related funds support a significant number of legal aid providers, pro bono programs, legal helplines, and online resources that do not receive any LSC funding. Collectively, the IOLTA and state-based funds administered by NAIP member programs are the second largest source of legal aid funding nationwide.
“This emergency funding is very welcome because it will help support LSC programs as the demand for legal help increases. However, we are very concerned that it will not be enough. The demands on legal aid programs of all types – LSC and non-LSC – will be intense during the next year,” Lloyd explained.
“To ensure an equitable and adequate response, additional resources for LSC programs and non-LSC programs will be essential. NAIP and our member organizations look forward to working with policymakers at all levels of government to help identify and meet the needs,” Holtermann said.
In 2019, Ohio’s nine legal services organizations served nearly 141,000 Ohioans, many of whom are seniors, veterans, domestic violence survivors, and children. Legal aid clients generally earn no more than 200% of the federal poverty guidelines, which amounted to $52,400 for a family of four in 2020.
The Ohio Access to Justice Foundation improves fairness and access to justice for all Ohioans. Established in 1994 as the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation, the Foundation funds Ohio’s legal aids through the IOLTA/IOTA program, a civil filing fee surcharge, and donations. Legal aid helps families, children, veterans, seniors, and other Ohioans struggling to make ends meet get back on their feet and on the road to self-sufficiency. Through the Foundation’s work, Ohioans have access to legal help, advice, and representation, which ensures fairness for all in the justice system.