Legal Aid's Chief Attorney Warns That Low-Income New Yorkers Urgently Need Legal Assistance

Steven Banks, Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, testified on January 30 before the Senate Finance Committee and the Assembly Committee on Ways and Means regarding the 2012-2013 Executive Budget and warned that the current economic conditions are especially harsh on low-income New Yorkers who are in desperate need of legal assistance.

"We are mindful of the continuing significant financial challenges that the State is facing. At the same time, these extraordinary economic conditions are having an especially harsh impact on low-income New Yorkers," Banks said. " The need for the legal help that the Society provides to these struggling families and individuals is increasing exponentially. However, due to a lack of resources, we are forced to turn away eight out of every nine New Yorkers who, among other things, seek our help to obtain unemployment and disability benefits, flee from domestic violence, and prevent evictions, foreclosures, and homelessness – which is at record levels in New York City. It is therefore essential that the final adopted State budget make provision for low-income New Yorkers who urgently need civil legal assistance in the midst of this severe economic downturn as well as New Yorkers accused – often wrongfully – of criminal conduct."

State funding from the Executive and the Judiciary has supported the Society’s legal assistance in the areas of civil legal services, criminal defense, indigent parolee defense, and juvenile rights. Special annual allocations from the Legislature for civil and criminal services have also provided crucial funding for the Society’s legal assistance for New Yorkers who have nowhere else to turn for legal help. Banks spoke about the impact of the proposed State budget on civil legal services, criminal defense, indigent parolee defense, and juvenile rights as well as the impact of several proposed juvenile justice and criminal justice measures.

View the full text of the testimony (PDF)