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Sample Talking Points for Byrne Act Discretionary Funds for Legal Aid in Texas (Long Post)

 

  

ARTICLE XII     Byrne Act Amendment  -- Legal Aid for Crime Victims

 

Legal Aid in Texas in Texas is in a financial crisis caused by the current economic downturn.  Their largest state funding source has been the Interest on Lawyer Trust Account program, known as IOLTA.  Under supervision of the Supreme Court, IOLTA funds have been granted by the Texas Access to Justice Foundation to local Legal Aid and pro bono programs for 25 years.

 

In 2007, banks typically paid 2-4% interest on customer checking accounts including the IOLTA accounts that have funded Legal Aid.  With banks now able to draw down overnight funds are rates near zero percent; they typically pay less than one-fourth of 1%  for those same customer accounts.  IOLTA revenues have decreased from $20 million in 2007 to less than $2 million for 2009.  Legal Aid programs have been advised that there will not be any IOLTA grants next year.

 

Approximately half of the 107,000cases handled by Legal Aid involved family law with their highest priority being helping victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.  In approving targeted federal funds to assist crime victims, Congress recognized the increased pressure that families have when faced with job layoffs and the corresponding need to provide increased crime victim services.

 

Currently Byrne funds are used for a wide mix of purposes with grants being sent to Councils of Government, and some funds being retained for discretionary grants.  While the Attorney General's office has long targeted some Victim Assistance funds to Legal Aid statewide to provide Crime Victim Legal Services ($2.5 million annual), there is no similar program to target Byrne Justice Assistance grants.

 

To allow Legal Aid programs to keep their offices open and to provide an expanded focus on helping domestic violence victims, this amendment provides that roughly 15% of the one time Byrne Grant Stimulus funds be used on a statewide basis to provide that vitally needed service.

 

Our Stimulus Committee chaired by Rep. Jim Dunnam heard testimony how these funds will be targeted exactly for that purpose.   I have since been informed that the Texas Access to Justice Foundation - under Supreme Court supervision - will take no funds for administration but instead allocate every single dollar for legal services for these victims of violent crime.

 

Texas will receive $84 million in supplemental Byrne Justice Assistance grants.  This amendment will set aside 15% of these one time funds for Legal Aid to focus on domestic violence until such time as the economy improves and IOLTA funds will again be available for that work.

 

Supplemental Information:  Only if Asked:

 

1.  HOW ELSE CAN THE FUNDS BE USED?

 

Base funding for Byrne Justice Assistance Grants is not affected by this amendment.  In addition to helping victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, Byrne stimulus funds may also be used for other law enforcement and judicial related activities.  These include drug courts, new cars for police, informational workshops for crime victims, and prosecution assistance.  This amendment only targets 15% of available funds.

 

2.  WHY NOT SIMPLY LET THE GOVERNOR DECIDE?

 

The vast majority of funds are now granted out to 24 local Councils of Government each of which has its own administrative expenses.  They in turn fund local entities.  In contrast, the Legal Aid programs that provide Crime Victim Civil Legal Services are a unified system of grantee organizations that are providing essentially the same services statewide.  It would be administratively costly and cumbersome for the statewide Texas Access to Justice Foundation to quickly develop relationships and enter sub-grants with 24 locally based entities.

 

3.  HOW DOES THIS MEET THE PRIORITIES FOR STIMULUS FUNDS ANNOUNCED BY THE SPEAKER?

 

1.  Funds will be used for job retention.  Without these funds, experienced Legal Aid attorneys and paralegals will be facing layoffs when current IOLTA grants expire.

2.  While the numbers are not known, the national experience is that job layoffs, and reduced family income is often tied to domestic disputes and to increased family violence.  This will provide victim protection through protective orders when those incidents occur.  When jobs are restored, the need for one-time funds will decrease.

3.  The need for one-time funds will decrease as interest rates return to their historical levels.

 

4.  WHO IS THE TEXAS ACCESS TO JUSTICE FOUNDATION?  HOW CAN THEY ADMINSTER GRANTS WITH NO OVERHEAD?

 

Created by the Supreme Court in 1984, the Foundation has provided over $200 million in grants to local non-profit Legal Aid providers.  The Foundation reviews competitive applications and makes annual grants accordingly.  Grants are monitored on site for performance evaluations and annual financial audits are examined by CPA staff.  Because they already administer Crime Victim grants to local Legal Aid offices for the AG's office, there will be no added expense involved.

 

5.  HOW MUCH IS THE LEGAL AID FUNDING SHORTFALL?  WHAT IS THE STATUS OF THE LEGISLATION THAT HELPS THESE PROGRAMS?

 

Legal Aid programs are facing unprecedented demand with thousands of requests from the New Poor for help with matters like mortgage foreclosure, eviction defense, consumer fraud, and emergency aid for hurricane victims in matters such as FEMA appeals and denials of veterans assistance.  The Supreme Court requested $37 million to simply make up the IOLTA shortfall based on last year's demand for services. 

 

The House Appropriations Committee has approved $24 million and its members have recommended that Legal Aid supporters look to other legislation to respond to the unmet need.  Bills pending include an increase on court filing fees (HB 3637 by Rep.Hughes);  a fee on mortgage foreclosure filings by Rep. Gallego (HB. 3776);  and an allocation of Attorney General Civil Fines received by the state for fraudulent business practices (HB 2517 by Rep. Turner).  This measure is one of four that will respond to the shortfall and hopefully allow Legal Aid to respond to the increased demand for services.

 

 

 

ARTICLE XII                            Byrne Act Amendment                   Legal Aid for Crime Victims

 

Legal Aid in Texas in Texas is in a financial crisis caused by the current economic downturn.  Their largest state funding source has been the Interest on Lawyer Trust Account program, known as IOLTA.  Under supervision of the Supreme Court, IOLTA funds have been granted by the Texas Access to Justice Foundation to local Legal Aid and pro bono programs for 25 years.

 

In 2007, banks typically paid 2-4% interest on customer checking accounts including the IOLTA accounts that have funded Legal Aid.  With banks now able to draw down overnight funds are rates near zero percent; they typically pay less than one-fourth of 1%  for those same customer accounts.  IOLTA revenues have decreased from $20 million in 2007 to less than $2 million for 2009.  Legal Aid programs have been advised that there will not be any IOLTA grants next year.

 

Approximately half of the 107,000cases handled by Legal Aid involved family law with their highest priority being helping victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.  In approving targeted federal funds to assist crime victims, Congress recognized the increased pressure that families have when faced with job layoffs and the corresponding need to provide increased crime victim services.

 

Currently Byrne funds are used for a wide mix of purposes with grants being sent to Councils of Government, and some funds being retained for discretionary grants.  While the Attorney General's office has long targeted some Victim Assistance funds to Legal Aid statewide to provide Crime Victim Legal Services ($2.5 million annual), there is no similar program to target Byrne Justice Assistance grants.

 

To allow Legal Aid programs to keep their offices open and to provide an expanded focus on helping domestic violence victims, this amendment provides that roughly 15% of the one time Byrne Grant Stimulus funds be used on a statewide basis to provide that vitally needed service.

 

The House Stimulus Committee chaired by Rep. Jim Dunnam heard testimony how these funds will be targeted exactly for that purpose.   The Texas Access to Justice Foundation - under Supreme Court supervision - has stated that they will take no funds for administration but instead allocate every single dollar for legal services for these victims of violent crime.

 

Texas will receive $84 million in supplemental Byrne Justice Assistance grants.  This amendment will set aside 15% of these one time funds for Legal Aid to focus on domestic violence until such time as the economy improves and IOLTA funds will again be available for that work.

 

 

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