Legal Aid's Chief Attorney Predicts Governor's Proposed Cut in State-wide Civil Legal Services Will Have a Harsh Impact on Low-Income New Yorkers Who Are Facing Economic Hardships

Steven Banks, Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, told a special Senate hearing yesterday that the Governor's proposed $595,000 cut in the Assembly's State-wide civil legal services funding will have a harsh impact on low-income families and individuals in New York City who are already suffering in the midst of the most extreme economic conditions since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The special hearing focused on the proposed cut and the need for an IOLA bailout plan to address the dramatic drop in revenue in the Fund for civil legal services.

Last week, Banks testified before a special Assembly hearing on the proposed cut in civil legal services funding and the need for an IOLA bailout.

"We are mindful of the extreme financial difficulties that the State is facing," Banks said. "At the same time, these extraordinary economic conditions are having an especially harsh impact on low income New Yorkers and the need for the legal help that the Society provides to these struggling families and individuals is increasing exponentially. Against this backdrop, the Governor has proposed to cut $595,000 from the Assembly’s $4.2 million allocation for civil legal services for constituents in literally every community of the New York State. With this new proposed State civil legal services cut, the Society and other civil legal services programs across the State and in New York City will have to turn away more families and individuals who need legal aid to get unemployment and disability benefits, flee from domestic violence, and prevent evictions, foreclosures, and homelessness." This proposed State civil legal services cut is also coming at a time when a catastrophic drop in Interest on Lawyer Account funding for civil legal assistance in New York State is looming in 2010.

Banks said that the Society annually handles some 32,000 civil legal matters in literally every zip code in the City except the zip code for Ground Zero, consisting of 35.9% of our cases from Brooklyn, 26.7% from the Bronx, 16.5% from Queens, 14.4% from Manhattan, and 6.5% from Staten Island. However, we are able to help only one out of every nine New Yorkers who seek our help with civil legal problems because of lack of resources. The situation has become particularly dire since the economic downturn which is having such a harsh impact in our client communities, and the need for our civil legal services is more crucial than ever. Homelessness, for example, is at record levels in New York City, and unemployment, hunger, and foreclosures are on the rise.

View the 10.26.2009 testimony

View the 10.21.2009 testimony