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Domestic Violence, Eviction, Finances Drive Virus Legal Aid Rise

July 24, 2020, 8:51 AM

Rising evictions and domestic violence are partly driving the skyrocketing demand for legal aid during the coronavirus pandemic, with groups anticipating a heavier caseload overall going forward and requesting an additional $50 million in federal funds.

Virtually all of the organizations receiving funds from the Legal Services Corporation to help the poor anticipate additional needs arising from the ongoing crisis and fewer avenues for resources due to the economic impact of the virus, an LSC survey showed.

“The survey responses confirm that the pandemic and its economic consequences are causing or will cause a spike in legal needs in areas such as evictions, unemployment claims, and domestic violence,” LSC President Ron Flagg said in a statement.

“America’s legal aid programs are responding innovatively to meet those needs while providing their services remotely and while facing state and local funding cuts,” Flagg added.

Legal Services Corporation received $50 million in the CARES Act federal stimulus approved in March for legal work relating to the impact of coronavirus. All but $500,000, which went to grant management, was distributed to grantees by mid-April, the group said.

Congress is currently working on another stimulus package, but the timing and scope of that legislation is unclear. LSC requested another $50 million in May.

Nearly all of the 132 LSC grantees responded to the survey about their experiences during the pandemic through June.

More than three quarters said funding was insufficient going forward because of an anticipated increase in community need, a decrease in help from the states, and a need to hire more staff.

The pandemic has wreaked havoc on the daily life of ordinary Americans since mid-March. Infection rates and deaths continue to climb. Business closures and millions of jobless have elevated the struggles of the poor.

For instance, Southeast Louisiana Legal Services Corporation, a grantee, said it has seen a 670% increase in requests for legal help with unemployment cases and an almost 200% increase in evictions from mid-March through May when compared to that time period in 2019.

LSC is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation that distributes more than 90% of total funding to 132 independent nonprofit legal aid programs with more than 800 offices, its website says.

Clients include a “every ethnic group” from rural, suburban, and urban areas. Many are homeowners and renters, veterans, families with children, people with disabilities, and the elderly. Women comprise 70% of clients, LSC says. Clinics are often staffed by pro-bono attorneys.

To contact the reporter on this story: Melissa Heelan Stanzione in Washington at mstanzione@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Seth Stern at sstern@bloomberglaw.com; John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com

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