Congressional budgeting error could slash funds for federal public defenders
Melody Brannon, the federal public defender in Kansas: “This is going to be catastrophic. Our money goes to salaries to pay defenders and investigators and paralegals and social workers who provide representation for the most impoverished people in our society.” Image from Shutterstock.
Federal public defenders may have to lay off as many as 500 people as a result of a congressional budgeting error in pending spending bills.
If not corrected, the error could force the Federal Public and Community Defenders to cut its budget by 3% to 5%, Reuters reports.
“This is going to be catastrophic,” said Melody Brannon, the federal public defender in Kansas, in an interview with NPR. “Our money goes to salaries to pay defenders and investigators and paralegals and social workers who provide representation for the most impoverished people in our society.”
The 2023 budget for the Federal Public and Community Defenders was lowered because of a $111 million carryover because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the articles. But Congress based its proposed 2024 budget on the lower figure.
The shortfall comes at a particularly bad time because federal public defenders are representing defendants charged in the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol riot and helping defend people in Indian country prosecutions.
Democratic Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin of Illinois said he will work to get the funding restored to the final budget.
“Instead of showing our gratitude by providing Federal Defenders with the resources they need to advocate for their clients, we are at risk of critically underfunding their constitutionally-mandated services,” Durbin said in a statement cited by Reuters and NPR.