Under Trump's Budget, It May Be Harder To Get Legal Help When You Can't Afford A Lawyer

Mar 22, 2017

President Donald Trump’s first budget outline calls for cutting all funding for legal aid services. What could that mean for individuals and communities in northeast Ohio? 

Angela Lloyd, Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation
Credit Ohio Legal Aid Assistance

The president's proposed cuts would affect only legal aid to handle civil cases, not public defenders. Court-appointed lawyers for defendants who can’t afford them in criminal cases is constitutionally guaranteed.

But, for civil issues--foreclosures, domestic cases, landlord disputes--people who can’t pay for legal assistance themselves may not be able get it. Angie Lloyd of the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation explains what a total cut at the national level would do.

“Last year, its budget nationally was $385 million, of which Ohio received 12.4 million.. Now, statewide in Ohio, the legal services budget is just under $40 million. So that $12 million is just over a third of the state budget.”

Lloyd says that the federal legal aid program was started in the 1970s to help the civil court system be more efficient, effective and fair. 

“Our system is set up to be an advocate-based system, so that someone goes to court to make their case.  Judges in our system are supposed to be fair and impartial arbiters. They can’t help one side who just happens not have a lawyer. “

She also says, because of how they're set up, only people with significant economic need can qualify for assistance.

“Legal aid is available to people who earn less than 125 percent of the poverty level. For a family of four, for example, that is people earning less than $24,000. So this is a particular attack on low-income and vulnerable people. ”

The President’s call to eliminate all federal funding for legal aid is part of an outline of spending priorities in a budget proposal issued  earlier this month. Before anything in the plan could go into effect, Congress would have to approve the budget.

CORRECTION:  In this article, we originally referred to Ohio Legal Aid Assistance and Ohio Legal Aid Society.  The correct name of the organization is Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation.