Legislation & Lobbying

86 percent of low-income Americans' civil legal issues get inadequate or no legal help, study says

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A new report reveals the extent of the “justice gap” experienced by low-income Americans.

The report (PDF), released on Wednesday, found that 86 percent of civil legal problems reported by low-income Americans in the past year were not addressed with adequate or professional legal help.

The report, “The Justice Gap: Measuring the Unmet Civil Legal Needs of Low-income Americans,” was based in part on a survey of low-income Americans conducted for the Legal Services Corp.

In 2017, the report says, low-income Americans will approach LSC-funded legal aid organizations for help with an estimated 1.7 million problems. They will receive only limited or no legal assistance for more than half of these issues because of a lack of resources.

The study found that seven of every 10 low-income households have experienced at least one civil legal problem in the past year. Seventy percent of those who reported a legal problem said it affected them “very much” or “severely.” Common legal problems related to issues of health, finances, rental housing, children and custody, education, income maintenance and disability.

Low-income Americans seek legal help, however, for only 20 percent of the problems. Many who didn’t seek legal help said they were concerned about cost, whether their issues were legal in nature, and where to find help.

The survey of 2,000 low-income Americans was conducted for the LSC by NORC at the University of Chicago, according to a press release. The study also examined data of an “intake census” of people seeking assistance from LSC-funded groups in March and April of this year.

University of Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh was among nine speakers discussing the report Wednesday in Washington, D.C., report MLive.com and the Detroit News. An LSC press release on the event at the Russell Senate Office Building is here.

“I may be a football coach,” Harbaugh said in his opening remarks, “but I am an American first and foremost, and all Americans should care about equal access to justice.”

ABA President Linda A. Klein also was at the event. The ABA Governmental Affairs Office covered her comments on Twitter.

President Donald Trump has proposed eliminating funding for the Legal Services Corp., spurring sharp criticism from Klein.

The ABA website invites visitors to “tell Congress that you fight for LSC” in 400 characters or less. “Register as a LEGAL AID DEFENDER and we will hand-deliver your Legal Aid Defender card with your personal messages to members of Congress,” the website says.

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