WASHINGTON (CN) – Among the cuts suggested in the budget President Donald Trump proposed last week is the elimination of a federally funded corporation that gives grants to civil legal aid programs, according to a document the White House released Monday.
This is the third year the Trump administration has suggested the elimination of the Legal Services Corporation, or LSC, which was created in 1974 to award grants to help low-income people navigate civil court disputes.
An explanation released Monday justifies the cuts by noting an inspector general report from 2017 identified “a number of unallowable expenses” from organizations that received grants, including more than $17,000 that went towards ordering cakes and flower arrangements to entice private attorneys to join.
A nonprofit funded by Congress, the LSC had $385 million in funding that year. Congress boosted the organization’s budget by $5 million in the most recent appropriations bill.
The Trump administration says other groups and programs would step in to fill the LSC’s role if Congress were to cut it, as the White House has proposed.
“This proposed elimination would encourage nonprofit organizations, business, law firms and religious institutions to develop new models for providing legal aid, such as pro bono work, law school clinics and innovative technologies,” the document released Monday states. “The proposal would also put more control in the hands of state and local governments that better understand the needs of their communities.”
But the National Legal Aid & Defender Association said the elimination of the LSC would “exacerbate the disparity in access to justice” for low-income people and urged Congress to keep the nonprofit’s funding intact.
“The administration’s proposed elimination of LSC would cause millions of Americans to be denied access to critical legal help,” Jo-Ann Wallace, president and CEO of the association, said in a statement Monday. “LSC grantees provide necessary legal services around the country to help veterans, survivors of natural disasters and domestic violence, seniors, people in rural communities and many others facing legal problems with life-altering consequences.”
In a statement released Monday, LSC President Jim Sandman seemed confident Congress would buck the administration and keep the group funded.
“I believe that the bipartisan support LSC has enjoyed in Congress for almost 45 years will continue long into the future,” Sandman said. “We are grateful that Congress recognizes LSC’s vital importance in ensuring equal access to justice and has increased our funding in each of the last two fiscal years.”