Low-income residents seeking help in civil cases will have fewer resources to navigate the system as nationwide budget cuts impact New Hampshire
Concord - Legal Advice and Referral Center (LARC), a nonprofit in downtown Concord, has served low-income residents across the state since 1996 by providing self-help legal advice to those at or below 200 percent of the poverty line ($44,700. for family of four). Typical clients include women seeking help from domestic violence, a family fighting a wrongful eviction or foreclosure, or a single parent trying to keep custody of their children in a divorce case.
Dealing with real, life-changing problems, callers phone in to LARC from all nine counties across the state needing urgent help with complicated legal issues. “More than seventy-five percent of our clients are women trying to provide for their families,” Connie Rakowsky, LARC’s Executive Director stated. “About half of our cases are evictions and foreclosures and the other half are divorces, custody disputes and the like. The majority of our divorce cases involve domestic violence.”
A primary source for civil legal information, LARC’s professional staff provided self-help legal advice to more than 3,000 eligible clients and referrals to another 5,000 people seeking help in 2011 alone. These 3000 clients served was a 10% increase of people helped in 2011 over 2010; in 2010 LARC helped 55% more people over 2009. Each client served represents a family of about 2 or more people on average. Despite these phenomenal increases, the federal entity that directs dollars to support legal advice programs nationwide is making dramatic cuts.
Since 2010, Congress has directed $72 million be cut from Legal Services Corporation, the federal board that distributes funds to organizations like LARC. This has translated into 833 staff members cut from legal advice centers across the 135 programs in the United States, including a 15% cut from LARC’s operating budget. This has resulted in less attorney and staff hours dedicated to answering phones and helping clients in the Granite State.
With other legal assistance programs in New Hampshire also suffering from cuts in state appropriations as well as declines in grants from the Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts, many clients are without a resource for their legal needs. nd as this year’s federal budget process is underway with more cuts threatened, access to justice is really at risk for the poor and elderly in New Hampshire.
“We’re hoping this is the deepest of the cuts. We hope it won’t go any deeper,” says Rakowsky.
For more information about Legal Advice and Referral Center visit www.nhlegalaid.org. For more information about Legal Services Corporation visit http://www.lsc.gov/media/press-releases/staff-reductions-hit-legal-aid-programs.