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I do not question the legitimacy of strong advocacy of social causes, using all resources at the disposal of the legal profession. The issue has been, and remains, whether it is proper to use public funds to finance that advocacy.
The sensitivity displayed by the Board and Corporation officers to those sections of the Act intended to prevent or curtail objectionable practices has been reassuring to this Senator. Accordingly, I am prepared to consider carefully the appeal for additional funds above the Fiscal 1976 level and the House allowance. As I understand the situation, Mr. Chairman, we are being asked to decide whether the Corporation should receive more than token resources for expansion in Fiscal 1977.
As Mr. Ehrlich has stressed to me on other occasions, we must strive toward a time when we are not forced to ration justice. As Members of the Appropriations Committee, it is our burden not only to ration justice in terms of programs for legal assistance, but also, unfortunately, to ration access to health services, to educational opportunities, to employment and to many other services important to each citizen. The needs far outweigh our resources. As so often is the case, we must allocate carefully the small margin of new resources where they are likely to produce the best results in meeting the most pressing needs.
The performance of the Legal Services Corporation and its Board of Directors warrant careful consideration of this appeal.
Senator HRUSKA. The Corporation has submitted to the Congress a budget request for a substantial increase in funds, to begin a process which will get you to the point of providing minimum legal services to the poor in all areas of the country-at a level equivalent to two lawyers for every 10,000 Poor people. Can you explain to the subcommittee the role which the Board of Directors played in developing this budget request?
Mr. CRAMTON. The Board of Directors has taken a strong interest in all policy questions involving the Legal Services Corporation, and especially in the development of the budget requests submitted to Congress. There is no more vital decision for the Corporation than the formulation of its request for public funds. The Board's Committee on Appropriations-consisting of Glenn Stophel as Chairman, Senator Marlow Cook, and Melville Broughton-carefully reviewed with members of the staff the funding needs of the legal services programs. Public meetings were held at which interested persons presented information and views. The committee, with the assistance of its staff, formulated a budget proposal for review by the Board. The Board of Directors subsequently gave extensive consideration to the budget proposal and approved it unanimously. The Board enthusiastically supports the Corporation's budget request.
Senator HRUSKA. Is the Board persuaded of the Corporation's capacity to effectively utilize $140.3 million?
Mr. CRAMTON. There is no question of the capacity of the Corporation to expand the legal services program at the rate of the 1977 appropriation request. A substantial portion of the increased funds requested is for strengthening existing legal services programs. Those programs, which struggled through a 5-year period of inflation without any increased funding, urgently need and will quickly absorb the additional $13.4 million in our budget request. In addition, the Corporation must respond to the steadily growing requests for funds to provide legal services for the poor in areas that now have none at all. An amount is needed for this purpose that is sufficient to justify a nationwide grant application process. It would be unwise to raise expectations of funding and to invite thousands of applications, if the hopes were only to be dashed by insufficient funds. It would be equally unwise to create programs manned with so few lawyers and such inadequate funds that they could not deliver quality legal services. The Corporation has already established procedures to give careful consideration to all applications and to insure that the funds Congress does make available will benefit as many citizens as effectively as possible.
QUALITY OF LEGAL SERVICES
Senator HRUSKA. Dean Cramton, when you appeared before this subcommittee last year, you had only just been appointed to the Board of Directors of the Corporation. I assume that since then you have had an opportunity to look much more closely at what local legal services programs are doing around the country. Would you share with us your impressions of their work and the quality of legal services they are providing?
Mr. CRAMTON. A year ago, when the Corporation was getting started, the local programs suffered from the malaise of a long period of indifference by many and hostility by some. They were doing the best they could to deliver quality legal services under adverse conditions. They viewed the Corporation with hope but with some suspicion. Today, with the Corporation providing firm leadership and with the hope of more adequate funding, the energies of the local legal services programs are being put to work even more effectively. There is a common striving toward the goal of high quality legal services for all of the poor. There is great effort to work with local communities and with the private bar to reach that objective. A promising era lies ahead in which the imagination and creativity of the legal services program can result in more efficient and better forms of service.
IMPACT OF PRESIDENT'S BUDGET
Senator HUDDLESTON. Would you give us some indication of the impact, in terms of numbers of programs and numbers of persons served, of (a) the administration's budget proposal of $80 million, (b) the House figure of $110 million and (c) your appeal figure of $130 million?
Mr. EHRLICH. First, regarding the administration proposal of $80 million, I emphasize at the outset the special status of the Legal Services Corporation as it relates to the Congress. The Legal Services Corporation Act established a private Corporation, not a part of the executive branch, but accountable directly to the Congress. The act limits the role of the administration-specifically the Office of Management and Budget-to "review and comment upon" the Corporation's budget proposals when they are transmitted to the Congress.
Nevertheless, the President's 1977 budget did include a recommendation that the Corporation's appropriation be reduced from the fiscal year 1976 figure of $88 million, to $80 million. The administration offered no justification for this recommended decrease.
From the standpoint of the Nation's poor, any reduction in the present level of funding for the Corporation would be a disaster. Until the 1976 appropriation was approved by the Congress, legal services programs had labored since 1971 at a fixed annual appropriation of $71.5 million-this during a period of substantial inflation and rising unemployment that combined to produce sharply higher costs and increasing numbers of eligible clients.
Many offices were closed, and many more had to reduce their professional and support staffs, cut back on the number and kinds of cases accepted, and in other ways reduce legal services to the poor.
The increase for fiscal year 1976 was most welcome, but it allowed the Corporation to provide no more than essential funding to keep the programs going. They are still operating on budgets well below the level needed to meet the congressional mandate.
A decrease to $80 million at this time would force additional curtailments in existing programs as well, of course, as precluding establishment of even a single new program in an area now unserved. Beyond those obvious effects, a reduction would be devastating to the morale of those working in legal assistance to the poor as well as to the poor themselves.
At the level of $110 million, the Corporation would be able to provide the support needed for existing programs to fulfill their responsibilities. Our first obligation is to meet that goal.
With fiscal year 1976 funds, including the supplemental appropriation, the Corporation is able to fund about 300 legal assistance programs, serving areas in which 17.5 million poor persons live. At their current operating levels, however, these programs can handle only 1 out of 4 legal problems of eligible clients. At a level of $110 million in fiscal year 1977, we could strengthen these programs and increase their capacity to serve their clients.
The tasks we could not undertake with $110 million are more numerous. Without reductions in other vitally needed items, we could not: expand services to new areas; strengthen services in those areas that are only technically "covered"; or continue the congressionally mandated alternative delivery system study.
In addition, we would have to cut back on training, evaluation, and the staff-attorney study.
Even at $110 million, we would hope that the Corporation could support at least a few new programs in areas that are totally unserved. We could do so, however, only by cutting back the additional support to existing programs.
An appropriation of $130 million would extend the date when we could meet our goal of minimum service throughout the country. But it would allow us to bring legal services within reach of an additional 2.3 million poor, adding the equivalent of 580 attorneys capable of handling some 260,000 legal problems each year. And this level would, of course, also allow the Corporation to fulfill its commitment to the existing programs.
Senator HUDDLESTON. Do you have a current services figure for the Legal Services Corporation for 1977, that is, do you know what it would cost just to provide the same amount of services as currently provided?
Mr. EHRLICH. The base figure would be about $94.5 million. However, this would not include any adjustment to current program grants to help offset inflation. Nor would it allow any additional assistance to those programs that are most severely underfunded. To maintain current services at an adequate level would require the additional $13.48 million the Corporation has requested to strengthen existing programs.
Senator HUDDLESTON. Are most of your existing local programs operated through grantees who were grantees of the Community Services Administration or have you added a number of other grantees?
Mr. EHRLICH. All of the programs funded through the 1976 fiscal year appropriation were formerly grantees of the Community Services Administration. The 1976 supplemental appropriation will enable us to continue support at existing levels for section 221 community action programs formerly funded through CSA, and 10 programs for migrants, formerly funded through the Department of Labor. The Corporation had had no funds to add any new grantees—although the demands for such help are great.
Senator HUDDLESTON. Do you have grant applications pending from non-CSA agencies?
Mr. EHRLICH. The Corporation regularly receives requests for funding of new programs. These requests come from Members of the Congress, from the private bar, from State and local agencies, and from groups of concerned citizens, including the poor themselves. For several years now-given the budgetary freeze I have describedthere has been no formal application process, because there has been no money for new programs. Still, the requests keep coming. While some of these are general inquiries about how to start a program or apply for funds, many are formal requests by communities that have organized themselves, formed a board, obtained the support of the client community, local bar associations, and other groups-in short, communities that are ready today to begin assisting the poor.
UNMỆT NEED Senator HUDDLESTON. You have indicated that there are 12 million persons in this country eligible for legal services but unserved.
What types of services do these persons need most?
Mr. EHRLICH. The same types of services that are now being obtained by clients in areas served by legal assistance programs. On a national basis, the most recent study indicates that about 42 percent of matters handled by legal services programs concern domestic relations, 18 percent consumer problems, 11 percent housing problems, 9 percent welfare issues, with the remaining 20 percent covering a variety of problems. These problems are all of the day-to-day variety, the kinds of sudden and pressing crises that may seem routine or trivial to the outsider but often involve matters of economic survival to those affected.
Senator HUDDLESTON. Is there any pattern as to the location of these persons?
Mr. EHRLICH. The map that accompanies my prepared testimony gives some idea of the pattern, to the extent one exists. Clearly, the most heavily underserved or unserved areas are in the southern tier of States across the country; coverage in the Midwest, too, is very sparse. But even in areas that appear on the map to be entirely "covered"—the State of Georgia, for example—the current level of funding allows only for the most minimal coverage. The effort to expand services is, quite literally, a nationwide effort.
Senator HUDDLESTON. How many of them could you cover with a $110 million and a $130 million appropriation?
Mr. EHRLICH. As I indicated in response to your earlier question, we could not expand service significantly with a $110 million appropriation; perhaps by cutting some existing areas of activity we might be able to support a few new programs. At $130 million, we believe we can reach some 2.3 million poor.