Wednesday, March 9, 2011

For The Children

It’s not their fault their landlord refuses to do something about the mold in their building, even though more than half the kids living in that building have respiratory infections and other signs of continuous allergic reactions to mold and mildew. It’s not their fault the food stamp office lost their paperwork and cancelled their food assistance about the time they ran low on food. It’s not their fault a man hurt their mother repeatedly and frightened her so much she took them away one night with very few clothes or toys to a strange place with others like them. It’s not their fault the man who said he would fix the family’s only car is now saying he will sell it in 5 days unless they pay three times what he estimated (which is twice the money they have). They did nothing wrong. They did nothing to cause the problems. There is nothing they can do on their own to fix them. Yet the consequences will affect them at least as much as their parents. “They” are children in low-income families in the United States. Some of them have always done without. Some of them are not used to this new life style. All of them live with more than their share of stress and anxiety in their lives. People charged with serious crimes can get a lawyer appointed to defend them. The state government will try to get child support orders in place if their parent has been on public assistance. Who will help these children and their parents fight the slumlord, straighten out their benefits paperwork, obtain an order for protection against an abuser or prevent the loss of their car through fraud? The answer is: the lawyers and other legal staff at legal services, legal aid and similar non-profit organizations who work to right the wrongs that should not happen. A Bipartisan Success George Washington, in a letter to Attorney General Edmund Randolph in 1789, wrote that he believed “the due administration of justice is the firmest pillar of good Government.” (1) Congress created the Legal Services Corporation because it found in 1974 that:
(1) there is a need to provide equal access to the system of justice in our Nation for individuals who seek redress of grievances; (2) there is a need to provide high quality legal assistance to those who would be otherwise unable to afford adequate legal counsel and to continue the present vital legal services program; (3) providing legal assistance to those who face an economic barrier to adequate counsel will serve best the ends of justice and assist in improving opportunities for low-income persons consistent with the purposes of this Act. (4) for many of our citizens, the availability of legal services has reaffirmed faith in our government and laws; (5) to preserve its strength, the legal services program must be kept free from the influence of or use by it of political pressures; and (6) attorneys providing legal assistance must have full freedom to protect the best interests of their clients in keeping with the Code of Professional Responsibility, the Canons of Ethics, and the high standards of the legal profession. (2)

The bill passed with bi-partisan support in the House of Representatives (276 to 95) and the Senate (75 to 18) and was signed by President Nixon on July 18, 1974. (3) It has enjoyed strong bi-partisan support for over 30 years.(4) LSC Works Aided by a legion of volunteer lawyers who donate some of their time to and through pro bono programs, these paid staff know that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” (5) They work full-time to help as many people as they can in civil legal matters that high-income families will likely never have but would have the resources to address timely and completely. LSC is the single largest provider of civil legal aid for the poor in the nation. Designed on a “conservative” agency model, LSC distributes 95% of its funding to 136 non-profit law firms who hire the staff and work on the unmet legal needs in their communities. (More here…) Today, in the race to hastily slash the federal budget, Congress is considering huge cuts and potential elimination of the Legal Services Corporation. Hopefully, those scenes will not occur here our representatives will reconsider and see the savings LSC’s grant recipients deliver in exchange for their funding.

Keep LSC Working If you work in the legal profession, you can help by contacting your U.S. Representative and showing your support for this program. Make your local legal aid program your "charity of choice." Tell your friends and family why you believe in "equal justice under law" or recite the Pledge of Allegiance that ends with "...and justice for all" and ask them to write or call.

Better yet: ask them to do it for the children. They can't fight this themselves.


1. George Washington to Edmund Randolph, September 28, 1789

2. Legal Services Corporation Act, 42 U.S.C. 2996

3. Library of Congress Legislative Histories.

4. Remarks to New Mexico Bar Association reception in Albuquerque, Oct. 20, 2008.

5. From “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” April 16, 1963 (4th paragraph).

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