According to the 2012 American Community Survey—US Census Bureau update, New Mexico is the second poorest state in the nation. 22% of individuals in New Mexico (451,000 people) are living in poverty compared to the national level of 15%. People living in poverty ($23,550 for a family of four) have three to four times more legal issues affecting them yearly than the average middle-income resident.
There is only one legal aid attorney per 13,667 low-income New Mexicans. The number of residents per legal aid attorney continues to grow due slow recovery from the national recession and federal and state funding cuts. There is a local, private attorney per 379 residents in our state.
How does your donation help?
- $50 pays for legal advice to help a mother protect her child from an abuser.
- $100 stops a collection agency’s harassing calls to a disabled veteran.
- $200 covers the costs of helping a child overcome barriers to enrolling in Medicaid.
- $500 funds legal work to ensure that a family avoids homelessness.
- $750 can prevent foreclosure for a senior citizen in financial stress.
- $1,000 provides legal representation to a domestic violence victim get a court protective order to improve her safety and increase her independence from an abuser.
Rule 16-601 of The Rules of Professional Conduct encourages licensed attorneys in New Mexico to give donations or pro-bono time to the indigent population of our state. If you’re unable to donate pro-bono time, Equal Access to Justice is the perfect organization to make a financial contribution to support civil legal services.
Economic Benefits of Civil Legal Aid
—Laura K. Abel, National Center for Access to Justice at Cardozo Law School
Civil legal aid, an essential part of our Constitution’s promise of equal justice for all, also yields substantial economic benefits. It helps people prevent events that would be harmful to them and expensive for the larger society, such as domestic violence, long foster care stays, eviction, and health emergencies. It also helps people participate in government safety-net programs.
- Civil legal aid saves public money by reducing domestic violence. Civil legal aid “significantly” reduces repeat incidents of domestic violence by helping victims obtain custody and child support arrangements that make it possible for them to leave an abusive relationship. Thus, when a civil legal aid program expanded its services to help every low-income victim of domestic violence throughout its geographic service area, requests for protective orders within the area fell by 35.5%, while requests within the entire state fell by only 16.2%. When civil legal aid programs reduce domestic violence, they reduce public spending “on medical care for injured victims, special education and counseling for affected children, [and] police resources and prison for perpetrators.” Medical and mental health care costs alone total approximately $4.1 billion annually. Civil legal aid also reduces victims’ property losses and sustains their productivity: victims lose 8 million paid days of work annually, equivalent to 32,000 full-time jobs.
- Civil legal aid saves public money by helping children leave foster care more quickly. Children exit foster care more quickly when their parents receive high-quality representation in child welfare proceedings. In Washington State, the rate at which children were reunited with their parents was 11% higher when the parents were represented by lawyers whose caseloads were kept to a manageable level than when the parents were represented by high-volume contract attorneys. The rate of adoption nearly doubled. When civil legal aid programs speed family reunification and adoption, they reduce public spending in the form of payments to foster parents, subsidies for children’s medical care, cash benefits, and the expense of monitoring the foster family.
- Civil legal aid saves public money by reducing evictions. Tenants facing eviction are more likely to retain possession of their homes if they are represented by a civil legal aid attorney than if they either have no representative or receive less than full representation. A substantial proportion of the tenants receiving representation avoid homelessness as a result, saving thousands or tens of thousands of public dollars in shelter costs for each eviction averted. Civil legal aid saved $116 million in shelter costs in 2009-2010 in New York State alone.
- Civil legal aid saves public money by protecting patients’ health. Civil legal aid improves clients’ health, thereby reducing public spending on healthcare. Civil legal aid enabled half of asthmatic adults in a study to get landlords to remove contaminants from their homes, enabling the patients to stop taking steroids for at least six months (no such benefit was seen in a control group that received no legal help). Another study showed cancer patients who got legal aid to help with health insurance, disability benefits, or health-related job discrimination had reduced stress and improved compliance with medical regimens and with doctor appointments. Studies of medical-legal partnerships also reveal new revenue for hospitals in the form of insurance reimbursements and government benefits (Medicaid, Social Security and disability benefits).
- Civil legal aid helps low-income people participate in federal safety-net programs. Clients served by civil legal aid programs obtain hundreds of millions of dollars each year in Social Security Disability, Supplemental Security Income, SNAP, and other safety net programs. In New York alone, the federal benefits awarded to civil legal aid clients totaled $348 million in 2011. In many jurisdictions, legal aid is responsible for a substantial proportion of the benefit awards.
“Ultimately, civil legal aid is a powerful tool that can increase the impact of a funder’s
support. At the same time, it empowers low-income people and communities to have an
equal shot at the justice they deserve to meet their basic needs, promotes more dignity
and stability in their lives, and creates pathways out of poverty.”
State and national studies estimate that a staggering 80 percent of serious legal needs of low-income people go unmet due to grossly insufficient funding and support. In fact, although some 60 million people who are poor or nearly poor are eligible for legal aid programs, only about one million clients seeking legal help annually are able to be served due to limited resources. As
the number of those who are at or near the poverty level has gone up and federal funding
has gone down, funding per eligible client has dropped by almost 60 percent in the
past two decades.
A key source of funding in the states is from Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts (IOLTA). At no cost to lawyers or their clients, short term and nominal sums that cannot earn net income for clients are pooled in IOLTA accounts and generate interest to help fund legal aid in the states. Because of the economic downturn and low interest rates, however, income for this funding has declined by a dramatic 74 percent between 2007 and 2011. The funding declines have hampered the staffing of legal aid offices, further undermining the ability of low-income families to get help.
Natural allies: philanthropy and civil legal aid © 2013 Public Welfare Foundation and The Kresge Foundation