The big idea behind the JGP is to embed civil legal aid into existing priorities, programs, and appropriations to increase effectiveness, efficiency, and fairness for low-and moderate-income people and communities. State and local government programs help people remove obstacles to employment for people with a criminal record, 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 and ensure maximum benefit from scarce public dollars if they did.
We aim to fix that by partnering with leaders in a number of states including: Arizona, California, Illinois, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Wisconsin. We're testing new approaches to support legal aid, and sharing our findings in the Toolkit and via webinars. Policymakers at all levels of government can learn from these states’ experiences.
Some ways that civil legal aid furthers government priorities:
Legal aid is an essential partner in ending Veteran homelessness.
Legal aid works with your state to address crime victims' unmet legal needs.
Legal aid helps states reduce unemployment and keep Americans working.
Legal aid can improve peoples' health and help states reduce health care costs.
Legal aid enables states to protect constituents from consumer fraud scams.
To explore more research, opportunities and civil legal aid results in-depth, check out the Justice in Government Project Toolkit.
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. 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.
For a more in-depth look at civil legal aid results, read our curated research briefs which are continually updated in Module 1 of the JGP Toolkit.
Just Research is our co-authored monthly newsletter with NLADA that presents compelling civil legal aid research alongside data sources, legislative updates, and sources of federal funding. See previous issues of the newsletter here and sign up here.
The JGP 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 works to replicate LAIR at the state level.
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, not recognizing 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 to achieve maximum results, while at the same time obtaining the best results for the most people. That's why legal aid programs are valued government partners. Many studies demonstrate how legal aid can provide real and lasting economic benefits, for both the people who receive assistance and 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. For summaries of relevant research go to The JGP Toolkit Module 1.
The JGP 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 civil 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 administered by the states 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 shared priorities and enable their constituents to access legal help. For information about state-administered federal pass-through funds that allow spending on legal aid go to The JGP Toolkit Module 2.
Karen Lash published an essay in the Winter 2019 issue of Dædalus, the Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In "Executive Branch Support for Civil Legal Aid", she explains why civil legal services are essential tools for making government programs more effective, efficient, and fair when they are included alongside other supportive services.