Legal Aid Orgs Say Demand Will Keep Rising Amid Pandemic

By Emma Cueto
Law360 is providing free access to its coronavirus coverage to make sure all members of the legal community have accurate information in this time of uncertainty and change. Use the form below to sign up for any of our weekly newsletters. Signing up for any of our section newsletters will opt you in to the weekly Coronavirus briefing.

Sign up for our Access to Justice newsletter

You must correct or enter the following before you can sign up:

Select more newsletters to receive for free [+] Show less [-]

Thank You!



Law360 (July 24, 2020, 10:29 PM EDT) -- As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause economic upheaval, 97% of legal aid organizations funded by the Legal Services Corp. anticipate a sharp increase in the need for legal aid for issues such as eviction, foreclosure and consumer debt, according to a new survey.

LSC, the country's largest funder of legal aid, revealed in a study released Friday that, although all of its grantees are continuing to provide services either in person or remotely to deal with the pandemic's fallout, they say they are seeing an almost 18% average increase in the number of clients eligible for services.

"The survey responses confirm that the pandemic and its economic consequences are causing or will cause a spike in legal needs in areas such as evictions, unemployment claims, and domestic violence," LSC President Ronald S. Flagg said in a statement. "America's legal aid programs are responding innovatively to meet those needs while providing their services remotely and while facing state and local funding cuts."

Across the country, LSC grantees reported to the organization that their communities are facing particular problems related to the pandemic.

In California, the Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County shared an example of a woman who lost her job due to the pandemic and whose landlord tried to force her out of her home by shutting off her utilities. Southeast Louisiana Legal Services reported a veteran experiencing delays in getting certain benefits.

Others shared stories about helping clients with domestic violence, evictions, and mortgage forebearance, as well as dramatic numbers showing the increased need for services.

Kentucky Legal Aid reported that the number of unemployment claims filed during the pandemic is 3,471% higher than it was last year. Southeast Louisiana Legal Services said that it has seen a 670% increase in requests for legal help with unemployment issues.

According to the survey responses, the most common type of case for providers are eviction cases, with 95% saying that clients have sought assistance with eviction matters, despite many states implementing moratoriums.

The LSC requested $100 million in funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act and received $50 million. It was later granted an additional $50 million in May through the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act. However, most grantees told LSC that the CARES Act money wasn't enough.

In total, 78% of providers said the extra funds wouldn't be able to carry them through the crisis, with providers anticipating a "tsunami" of requests as the courts begin to open up again.

Many grantees also expect to see a decrease in funding from state governments, the survey found.

To cope with the increase in demand, organizations have updated online resources for high-demand services, and have started hotlines or connected with existing state hotlines to make themselves more accessible.

However, the report said, most executive directors indicated that the organization would need to hire additional staff attorneys in order to meet the demand.

The survey quoted one executive director saying, "We need more of everything. More staff, more program services, more technology, more training, and more leadership."

The survey was based on responses from 129 of the 132 LSC grantees.

--Editing by Emily Kokoll.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

Hello! I'm Law360's automated support bot.

How can I help you today?

For example, you can type:
  • I forgot my password
  • I took a free trial but didn't get a verification email
  • How do I sign up for a newsletter?
Beta
Ask a question!