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Embrace Justice

Invest in Legal Services

December 1, 2008

Author: Anne Erickson

As the state’s budget crisis continues to deepen and our state leaders struggle with how to create a balanced budget for next year, I had the honor of speaking on behalf of the civil legal services community at a rally outside the Capitol on November 18.  As the speakers got underway, snow started falling, gentle and quiet, in stark contrast to the energy and power of the over 1,000 people gathered to urge our leaders to find a better way:  there are revenue options outlined by the Better Choice Budget campaign and by the One New York Coalition; there are more targeted cuts that would not hit the poorest the hardest. 

What I really hoped to get across in my one-minute time slot is that there are core public interests that must not only be protected, but be strengthened at this very moment of economic downturn.  The safety net must be strengthened, not further strained and stretched. 

Here’s the gist of what I said:

I’m proud to be here today to speak on behalf of civil legal services programs across the state.  We help thousands of low income New Yorkers who come to our doors desperately seeking legal assistance when they are in crisis.

Our staff is there day in and day out, providing some measure of justice – helping families stay in their homes and avoid evictions, providing representation to those at risk of foreclosure, representing those who have been denied unemployment benefits, denied food stamps or health care or the child care assistance they so desperately need.  We work to ensure justice for victims of domestic violence, the elderly, the disabled, and the most vulnerable among us.

Right now - because of inadequate funding - we are failing to meet 80% of the civil legal needs of the poor.

So we are here today to call on the Governor and Legislative Leaders to Stop ANY further cuts to civil legal services.

Indeed, it is in these very difficult economic times that the State must be more vigilant, more active, and more aggressive in making sure that people in need do not fall prey to   discrimination, economic dislocation or further injustice.  It is in these times – at this very moment – that we should be expanding our investment in civil legal services and ensuring greater access to justice.

Access to justice – funding for legal services - is NOT a special interest.  Providing legal assistance to the poor is a fundamental public interest.

And so we are here today to call on Governor Paterson and our Legislative Leaders, to expand access to Justice – to increase funding for civil legal services – so that we may bring more reality to our most precious ideals of liberty and justice for all.

We’ll continue to do all we can here in Albany, but this will be an unprecedented fight and we need everyone speaking out – for legal services, for other core public services and benefits, and for the most vulnerable among us.  We’ll do all we can to keep everyone posted – and we urge you to take whatever action you can locally to guard against devastating state budget cuts. 

 





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