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The Justice In Government Project Getting Results with Legal Aid

Justice for all improves lives and sustains our democracy. While some people know that civil legal aid serves those same ends, too few realize how civil legal aid also makes government more effective, efficient, and fair. The Justice in Government Project (JGP) works to turn that secret into common knowledge.

At The JGP, we help state and local officials leverage civil legal aid to accomplish their policy and program goals, enabling people and communities to access housing, health care, safety, jobs, and many other basic necessities.

How The Justice In Government Project Works

The big idea behind The Justice in Government Project is to embed civil legal aid into existing priorities, programs, and appropriations to ensure maximum benefit from dollars spent on low-and moderate-income people and communities. State and local government programs help people remove obstacles to employment, stabilize housing for needy families, escape domestic violence, halt elder abuse, respond to disasters, secure appropriate benefits, and more. Too often those programs do not include legal aid, but could achieve even better results if they did.

We aim to fix that by partnering with leaders in four pilot states: Arizona, California, Mississippi, and Wisconsin. Together, we'll test new models to support legal aid, and then share our findings in a toolkit and via webinars. Policymakers at all levels of government can learn from these experiences.

Some ways that civil legal aid furthers government priorities:

For more information about The Justice in Government Project, contact Practitioner-in-Residence and Director Karen A. Lash (klash@american.edu)

Many government programs aimed at increasing opportunities for education, employment, housing, health care, and improving public safety and family stability, are more effective and efficient when they include legal aid alongside other supportive services. To read more about how legal aid improves results for government programs that help homeless veterans, crime victims, jobseekers, improve health and reduce health care costs, and protect against consumer fraud scams, click here.

Annual Report coverThe Justice in Government Project is modeled on the successful federal executive branch effort known as the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable (LAIR). The JGP Director Karen Lash was the principal architect and first LAIR executive director. Alongside her colleagues at the U.S. Department of Justice Office for Access to Justice, Karen collaborated with 22 federal agencies to maximize program effectiveness, efficiency, and fairness.

As government officials discovered the hidden, additive power of legal aid to advance a wide range of federal goals and enhance program effectiveness, agencies began inviting legal aid providers to join these efforts as partners, grantees, and sub-grantees.

The JGP replicates LAIR at the state level.

Check out the First Annual LAIR Report.

Also check out the many other LAIR-related documents in our LAIR Archive including the LAIR Toolkit, blogs and publications.

Studies show that most people consider problems such as unsafe housing conditions, harassment from debt collectors, or an abusive spouse, to be personal problems or bad luck, little guessing there might be a legal solution. Leaving those legal tools on the shelf makes government officials and social service programs less effective, scarce taxpayer dollars do not stretch as far as they should, and the people and communities suffering get less relief.

Government officials struggle under the twin pressures of spending limited funds as wisely as possible, while at the same time obtaining the best results for the maximum number of people. That's why legal aid programs are valued government partners. Many studies demonstrate how legal aid can provide real and lasting economic benefits, both for the people who receive assistance, and for government budgets, by reducing and preventing costly harms, such as those that flow from domestic violence, extended stays in foster care, illegal eviction, and health emergencies.

The Justice in Government Project taps a variety of resources, including state funds already designated for low- and moderate-income people, federal block or formula grants that explicitly authorize states to use funds for civil legal aid, and public-private partnerships.

For example, after documenting the significant unmet legal needs of crime victims, the U.S. Department of Justice clarified that Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) Victim Assistance Formula Grant funds can include legal aid for victims of a wide range of crimes, such as domestic violence, elder abuse, human trafficking, identity theft, and financial fraud. Other federal block grants can provide legal help to homeless veterans, elderly people, foster children and their families, parents with child support-related needs, and other underserved populations. The JGP works with state and local policymakers to identify resources that achieve their collective priorities and enable their constituents to access legal help.

Thank you to the Open Society Foundations, Public Welfare Foundation, and the Kresge Foundation for supporting The Justice in Government Project.

Thanks also to key partners including the National Legal Aid & Defender Association, and the California, Wisconsin, Arizona, and Mississippi Access to Justice Commissions.

The Justice in Government Project is a component of the Justice Programs Office at American University. For more information, please contact Karen Lash at klash@american.edu and Casey Chiappetta at cc1114a@student.american.edu

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