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Last-Minute Reprieve for Maryland Legal Aid

Photo: The Maryland General Assembly protects civil legal services for Marylanders with low incomes. Photo credit: Microsoft Images
Photo: The Maryland General Assembly protects civil legal services for Marylanders with low incomes. Photo credit: Microsoft Images
April 8, 2013

ANNAPOLIS, Md. - Despite steep federal funding cuts, legal services for the poor are protected in Maryland - for now. In the final hours of the 2013 session, the Maryland General Assembly is acting to soften the blow of federal budget reductions to the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau, which have topped $1 million over the past two years. The Maryland House and Senate are extending state-level funding sources for the bureau, including a civil court filing-fee surcharge that was set to expire this year.

According to Legal Aid executive director Wilhelm Joseph, the consequences would have been severe if the funding had disappeared.

"People are desperate for help," Joseph said. "When they come to us, they expect us to say, 'Yes, I can take your matter.'"

He said federal and state-level cuts have forced offices to close and workers to be furloughed in other legal aid bureaus across the country.

Reductions in free civil legal aid affects whether people can stay in their houses, get the public assistance they need, or escape domestic abuse, the Legal Aid chief said.

"They reduce our capacity to respond to those people. They create more social havoc."

Joseph remarked that it's anybody's guess whether there will be more federal cuts in the months ahead.

Alison Burns, Public News Service - MD