LSSCM hit with severe funding cuts

By Jennifer Bentley

Legal Services

Legal Services of South Central Michigan recently received notice that the federal government has cut all funding for civil legal aid by 15 percent.

This cut results in a $300,000 reduction in funding to LSSCM for fiscal year 2012.

In addition, because of low interest rates and decreased court filings - LSSCM also received a 47 percent reduction in funding from the state-administered IOLTA (Interest on Lawyers Trust Account) program.

The state funding cuts will result in an additional $140,000 loss of funding to LSSCM.

"Both these cuts are the result of state and national decisions," said Delphia Simpson, the Chair of the LSSCM board. "These cuts are based on national and state funding decisions--not on any criticism of this program."

Meanwhile, the number of low income individuals and families that qualify for assistance from Legal Services of South Central Michigan is at an all time high.

Census data indicates that by the end of 2010 over 475,000 individuals (about 30 percent of the total population of LSSCM's 13 County service area) qualify financially for legal aid services.

Many of these individuals are the "new poor," pushed into poverty by the recession and struggling to make ends meet.

"We will not be able to maintain the current level of services without an increase in local grants and donations," said Bob Gillett, the director of LSSCM.

"We have been working hard to increase local revenue and are very pleased at the response from so many lawyers in the community. We encourage all lawyers to join their colleagues in supporting LSSCM and the critical services we provide."

Gillett noted that local support is what makes the difference between a minimal local legal aid program and a great one.

"The local legal community can make a significant positive difference in our ability to provide services to this community," Simpson noted.

"We're at risk of losing staff--and that risk can be devastating to the overall justice system, the communities we serve, and our clients who have no where else to turn."

Since the early 1960s, Legal Services of South Central Michigan has provided legal assistance to low income persons with an emphasis on homelessness prevention, domestic violence prevention, and assistance in accessing health care, and needs-based governmental programs, including access to food and health care.

In addition to representation in individual cases, LSSCM is part of a network of agencies providing services to the community's most vulnerable members.

LSSCM handled almost 11,000 cases last year, providing help to 27,619 men, women and children.

Legal Services of South Central Michigan is a nonprofit law firm providing free civil legal services in 13 counties in South and Central Michigan.

LSSCM has staffed offices in Ann Arbor, Battle Creek, Jackson, Lansing, and Monroe. LSSCM also has smaller offices in several other counties. LSSCM also operates three statewide programs - Farmworker Legal Services, the Michigan Poverty Law Program and the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center.

For more information about Legal Services of South Central Michigan or to donate online, please visit our website at www.lsscm.org.

For more information contact Jennifer Bentley, 734-665-6181.

Published: Mon, Dec 26, 2011

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