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A Brief for the Poor

September 23, 1997

The House Appropriations Committee wants to slash spending on legal aid for the poor. The $141 million proposed for fiscal 1998 is less than half of the 1997 allocation. That is a shameful cutback in needed services.

But some House members are willing to go to bat to raise the funding for the Legal Services Corp. Reps. Alan B. Mollohan (D-W. Va.) and Jon D. Fox (R-Pa.) are expected to introduce an amendment on the floor this week to raise the committee's proposed funding to $250 million. The Senate has already approved $300 million, and the closer the House version comes to that amount the better the chances for a reasonable compromise.

The Legal Services Corp. provides grants to community-based agencies such as the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, the Legal Aid Society of Orange County and San Fernando Valley Neighborhood Legal Services. Statewide, legal services programs provide civil law advice to about 250,000 low-income clients--battered women, the elderly, children and others seeking redress in suits involving mostly housing and family matters.

For the last two years, as conservative opposition in Congress grew, the Legal Services Corp. budget has been cut. And in 1996 Congress forbade programs funded by the corporation to engage in class action suits, challenge welfare reform or lobby any governmental body.

Legal aid may be unpopular among some congressional conservatives, but a recent Louis Harris poll showed that 70% of Americans believe federal dollars should be used to provide civil legal assistance to the poor. The House should raise funding dramatically. Fairness demands it.

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