More funding needed for Massachusetts legal aid services

MLAC is asking to increase civil legal aid funding to $17M

BOSTON (WWLP) – Attorneys are seeking more funding for legal aid services for the poor. 22News explains how it could help folks in vulnerable situations.

Civil legal aid is available to people who earn 125% of the federal poverty level or just under $30,000 for a family of four. It provides free legal advice to people facing eviction, domestic violence or other civil disputes.

According to Steve Tavinel, the Development Director of Community Legal Aid, “Laurie actually came to our office in Springfield with a 48-hour eviction notice.”

Thanks to Community Legal Aid lawyers, a western Massachusetts woman named Laurie was able to get an unlawful eviction overturned. Her lawyers also found that she was illegally foreclosed on. They helped her refinance her home, all free of charge.

“And she says, she has this wonderful quote, I can start my life over again, it’s all behind me and I’m a homeowner in Springfield,” Tavinel added.

However, success stories like Laurie’s are increasingly becoming the exception rather than the norm. Mass. Legal Aid Clinics say more than 50 percent of the people they see are turned away because of lack of resources, staff and funding.

Jonathan Mannina, the Executive Director of Community Legal Aid, told 22News, “At a time when the demand for our services is increasing regularly and we have less people to help out.”

The Mass. Legal Aid Corporation, or MLAC, is asking the state Legislature to increase civil legal aid funding to $17 million in the 2015 state budget. Currently, they’re being funded $13 million, down from a high of $27 million before the 2008 financial crisis.

Lonnie Powers of Mass Legal Assistance Corp. said, “When we’re not able to represent people, women and their children who have been battered continue to be battered. People who have a right to stay in an apartment may be on the street.”

Nearly one million people in the Commonwealth are eligible for civil legal aid according to the Census Bureau, and MLAC says those numbers are increasing as their staffing is reduced.