4 Ways Recent Legislative Wins Impact Legal Aid

The Californians for Legal Aid program at OneJustice focuses on public policy education and advocacy to help transform the legal aid system. Throughout the year, the team works on an assortment of policy initiatives that impacts legal aid and the low-income Californians it serves in a variety of ways. Read below for four recent legislative wins that will strengthen the legal aid system and provide critical support to low-income communities in California.

Eligibility Expansion for Free Legal Services

Starting January 2022, more low-income Californians will have access to receiving free legal assistance from nonprofit legal aid organizations funded by the State Bar of California through the Interest on Lawyer Trust Account (IOLTA) system. The passage of SB 498 increases the qualifying poverty level to 200% from 125% AND exempts veterans disability benefits from household income. These long overdue changes mean that more Californians who should qualify for legal aid will be eligible for free legal services. 

Remote Court Appearances

The passage of SB 241 centers the needs of low-income litigants by allowing for remote court appearances after expiration of the COVID-19 Emergency Order. In addition to reducing the courts’ tremendous case backlog, remote proceedings increase access to justice by making it more accessible for both advocates and working families to attend their hearings. A true collective win for the legal aid community!

$600M Considered for Legal Services Corporation Funding

The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) is the largest funder of civil legal aid in the country — its grantees served more than 1.8 million people in 2019, helping them with family law, domestic violence, housing, fraud, and other legal problems. Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 funding allocated $465 million to LSC. 

In April 2021, OneJustice staff members attended virtual meetings with Members of Congress to advocate on behalf of robust LSC funding for FY 2022 . In recent years we have seen steady increases on this funding, proving how impactful this advocacy is. Here’s the latest: 

  • The House of Representatives agreed to legislation in July that includes $600 million for LSC in FY 2022. 
  • The Senate Appropriations Committee has proposed legislation that provides $515 million for LSC. 
  • The Biden Administration has requested $600 million for LSC. 

OneJustice will continue to monitor FY 2022 fundings progress.

$50M increase in Equal Access Fund

Each year, the Equal Access Fund (EAF) provides funding to about 100 nonprofit organizations that provide legal services to low-income Californians — including the unhoused community, people with disabilities, and victims of elder abuse and domestic violence. Legal aid saw another victory in California’s state budget for Fiscal Year 2022: the EAF benefitted from a $50 million increase, for a total of $70 million, as well as a promise for future base year funding of $40 million.

To learn more about other California state victories sign up for updates from the Legal Aid Association of California here.

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