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Looking For Financial Aid for Legal Aid

May 6, 2008

Harrisburg, PA - In Pennsylvania, "Legal Aid" needs financial aid. Programs to help low-income residents navigate the legal system are getting squeezed from both sides by the foreclosure crisis. Members of the legal community believe the result is less justice for low-income Pennsylvanians.

More than 200 attorneys from across the state were in Harrisburg on Monday (May 5), to ask lawmakers to support increased funding for Legal Aid programs in the Governor's budget. Andrew Susko, president of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, explains that recent interest rate cuts have shrunk a key source of funding for such programs, at the same time that more families facing foreclosure need attorneys' advice.

"When someone is losing a home, legal services are often really the only way to provide protection to homeowners. It is a very, very critical problem."

Another option lawmakers should consider, says Sam Milkes, executive director of the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network, is a bill to offer student loan forgiveness to new lawyers who opt for jobs in public service areas of law.

"Ninety-five percent of law graduates have a loan, on average, close to $100,000. That means many lawyers cannot even consider a public interest career without some sort of help."

Milkes says the legal aid system provides a vital service to 100,000 families each year, in cases ranging from health care to foreclosure where there is no right to a lawyer.

"The only way we can help assure that there is counsel available, that somebody can be advised and represented in those key issues, is through funding to Legal Aid."

Susko says the programs provide a wide-range of legal services. They handle domestic violence, child custody and many other cases in which there are definite needs for legal advice, but no automatic right to court-appointed counsel. Even before interest rates were cut, he adds, funding had failed to keep up with inflation, forcing Legal Aid programs to turn away about half of those seeking assistance.

Deborah Smith/Kevin Clay, Public News Service - PA