Thursday, February 19, 2009

Texas Legal Aid System Seeks $40 Million from Stimulus Package

I do not like being the bearer of bad news, but stories about the state of the economy and its effect on nonprofit organizations abound.  Here is another one for today...

Yesterday's Houston Chronicle reported that falling interest rates could cause the collapse of Texas' legal aid system if the Legislature does not take action soon. 

Leaders of the Texas Access to Justice Foundation, which directs state and federal funds to legal aid for low-income Texans, said they plan to ask lawmakers for a $40 million "bridge loan" from the federal stimulus package. The foundation, funded in part by Interest on Lawyers' Trust Accounts, or IOLTA, projects that drops in interest rates will decrease 2009 IOLTA funding to $1.5 million from $28 million in 2007.

"That is a real crisis. That is not fabricated. That is not manufactured. That's reality," said James B. Sales, chairman of the foundation's policy making arm, the Texas Access to Justice Commission.

The foundation also expects legislation to be filed in Texas over the coming weeks that would direct other funds to it for longterm support of legal aid services.

Texans who earn less than $11,075 annually are eligible to receive legal aid funds through the foundation. According to Sales, more than 5.2 million people qualify. He said the legal aid groups and pro bono lawyers in Texas have been able to serve roughly 23 percent of those in need.

Sales said using stimulus money would prevent layoffs without asking the Legislature to commit state dollars in future sessions. He said he believes the foundation will be able to support itself again in 2011.

All of us in Texas who do pro bono work within the legal aid system hope the foundation will indeed receive funding.


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