Amid Budget Cut Threats, LSC’s Sandman Says ‘Full Steam Ahead’ on Access to Justice Work

By Thai Phi Le

March 29, 2017

James Sandman, Legal Services Corporation President

Legal Services Corporation (LSC) president James J. Sandman says he has been encouraged by the widespread show of support for LSC coming from those in the legal community, as well as from congressional members across party lines, as the organization faces the prospect of losing all federal funding in the coming fiscal year.

“LSC implements the most fundamental of American values—ensuring equal access to justice for those who cannot afford to pay for a lawyer. Every year since LSC was founded in 1974, Republican and Democratic Congresses have funded us, because they recognize the importance of the services that our grantees provide to their constituents . . . I am optimistic that Congress will continue to fund us, and I have been heartened by the outpouring of support for LSC from across the country,” Sandman says.

On March 15 President Trump submitted his first budget request to Congress, proposing deep cuts to certain federal agencies and programs, including the complete elimination of funding for LSC. For fiscal year 2017, LSC had requested a budget of more than $502 million.

LSC is the single largest provider of civil legal aid for low-income Americans, awarding grants to eligible nonprofit organizations across the country that serve hundreds of thousands of individuals, children, families, seniors, and veterans in need. In 2015 LSC served more than 1.8 million people.

For some states, an LSC-funded program is the only access to justice program available to low-income residents trying to navigate the complicated legal system on urgent issues from evictions to domestic violence. Sandman says LSC’s services are critical to “helping victims of domestic violence secure protection orders against their abusers, allowing veterans to access benefits they earned through their military service, protecting seniors from consumer scams, and enabling disaster survivors to get back on their feet.”

In the two weeks since the White House proposed budget was publicized, law school deans, bar associations, and both Republican and Democratic representatives have offered their support in written and public statements, defending the organization’s work to ensure that the access to justice gap doesn’t widen further for those in need. Even University of Michigan head football coach Jim Harbaugh, who sits on LSC’s Leaders Council, weighed in.

In a written statement, the American Bar Association said it was “outraged that the administration proposes to eliminate funding for the Legal Services Corporation in its budget and calls on every member of Congress to restore full funding. LSC provides civil legal aid to people who desperately need help to navigate the legal process. Without this assistance, court house doors will slam in the faces of millions of Americans, denying them equal access to justice.”

This is not the first time LSC has dealt with budget cuts. In 2012 Congress slashed its budget by 18 percent, forcing many programs to lay off lawyers and staff. In a 2012 interview with the D.C. Bar, Sandman noted that some programs in rural areas had to close their offices completely.

Now faced with the threat of zero federal funding five years later, Sandman remains steadfast in his commitment to the LSC’s mission, with no plans to slow down. “We are proceeding full steam ahead with our important work of ensuring access to justice in America,” he says.