Module 3: What States Are Doing How policymakers leverage existing resources to support legal aid

Executive branch policymakers increasingly appreciate how partnering with legal-aid and self-help service providers support state and federal goals of fiscal responsibility, effective social services, and improved outcomes for the people they serve. Many examples are included in the Grants Matrix and more still in the materials below.

This module helps you think about how to approach the myriad opportunities for state government partnerships with legal aid and includes some sample materials prepared by state partners. Depending on your state and its policy goals, you can focus on 1) a specific issue relevant to policymakers and legal aid – for example, helping people with a criminal record get a second chance to succeed – which can tap several funding sources, or 2) a specific federal pass-through funding source that allows spending on legal aid and its role in advancing a particular policy goal.

This Toolkit will continue to grow. To hear about updates and new tools or to provide feedback, send an email to jgp@american.edu.

Start with the Issues

Leaders of Arizona's Access to Justice Commission prepared these mini-briefs for meetings with state policymakers to discuss how legal aid reduces barriers to employment, helps with re-entry, and keeps Arizonans working:

Civil legal aid programs in Kentucky, Ohio, Oklahoma, and West Virginia received funding from the U.S. Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime (DOJ OVC) Enhancing Community Responses to the Opioid Crisis: Serving Our Youngest Crime Victims grant to launch projects that help children and their caregivers affected by the opioid crisis. These projects will work collaboratively with schools, law enforcement, health and social service providers, and other community partners. Building on this endorsement by the federal government – i.e., DOJ OVC recognizes that child victims of the opioid crisis need legal aid – several of these grantees are exploring ways to expand these services statewide with funding sources listed in our fact sheet and Grants Matrix.

The Hawaii Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable is a pilot project of the Department of Human Services, Access to Justice Committee, and the Hawaii Justice Foundation. The roundtable seeks to increase collaboration and efficiency across state departments, identify programs that would be more effective, efficient, and produce better outcomes by adding legal services to the supportive services provided, and leverage federal funds to increase access to legal aid for Hawaii’s most vulnerable.

 

Focus on a Specific Funding Source

VOCA directs funding allocations to state agencies that make awards to direct service providers assisting crime victims. Three considerations make VOCA ideal for demonstrating how to connect good government with access to justice: a solid evidence base documents unmet civil legal needs among crime victims and the importance of civil legal help to solve myriad problems related to victimization; Congress consistently supports the act and since 2015 increased funding; and a 2016 rule clarifies that these funds can be used for comprehensive legal assistance for civil legal needs that flow from victimization.

More than 40 states use VOCA funds to expand legal help for crime victims. For some states, such as California, funds under the act were used to create new grant programs to provide legal services. At least six states–Massachusetts, Washington, Vermont, Michigan, New York, and Pennsylvania–launched statewide VOCA-funded legal-aid programs. The JGP has compiled narratives about the approach taken in Massachusetts, Washington state, Michigan, and California, and other helpful tools to demonstrate how certain states significantly expanded legal services for victims of crime.

 

In 2015, the Legal Aid Association of California (LAAC) worked with the California Commission on Access to Justice and the State Bar of California to secure funding for legal aid service providers from the state’s VOCA Steering Committee. They sent a co-signed letter to the VOCA administrator and included three “case studies”– how civil legal aid helps prevent domestic violence, prevent elder abuse, and protect consumers. None of the co-signers directly benefited from the advocacy (i.e., receive a VOCA grant), potentially enhancing their credibility. As a result of their advocacy, more than $10 million of VOCA funding was awarded to legal aid service providers in California; and by 2017, there were at least 44 organizations receiving approximately $24.9 million in VOCA funds to provide legal services to victims of crime. One RFP was specifically dedicated to victims’ legal assistance and others had language expressly allowing legal aid organizations.

In 2016 and 2017, Michigan Advocacy Program (MAP) received VOCA funding for 14 attorneys serving survivors of domestic violence and another 12 dedicated to helping elder abuse survivors. These attorneys work out of 18 legal aid offices across Michigan. These staff attorneys are MAP staff who are considered donated staff to each partner program. VOCA staff are jointly supervised by the local offices and MAP. The local offices provide additional in-kind support such as office space. In the most recent quarter of the program, they helped 857 individuals who were victims of domestic violence and/or elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation.

In 2017, the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation received a VOCA grant to increase access to legal services for victims of violent and economic crimes in the state. The Civil Legal Aid for Victims of Crime (CLAVC) initiative helps victims of crime throughout Massachusetts with their related civil legal problems — including family law, housing, immigration, disability rights, child welfare, education, consumer, identity theft, employment rights and public benefits. There are six regional CLAVC-funded legal aid programs and three statewide CLAVC-funded legal aid programs.

Beginning in 2015, New York State Office of Victim Services (OVS) received a series of grants totaling $1.5 million from the DOJ OVC to partner with the Empire Justice Center, Pro Bono Net, and the University of Albany’s Center for Human Services Research to develop a new resource to assist crime victims outside NY City where civil legal resources were scarce or difficult to access, especially in rural communities. NY’s VOCA Victim Assistance Formula Funds picked up where the DOJ OVC grant left off providing ongoing support for the CVNL and its Legal Help website. Top tech innovations include a user-friendly triage screening tool, searchable legal service help directory, Know Your Rights library, LiveHelp chat function, warm referral mechanisms, and a Network Partner Advocate Gateway that allows advocates to access additional resources through a secure portal for professionals serving crime victims.

The Justice in Government Project, supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts, presents a narrative about how OVS expanded civil legal aid for crime victims

In 2016, the Washington State Office of Civil Legal Aid (OCLA) established the Integrated Civil Legal Aid to Crime Victims Program. This program funds seven legal aid service providers throughout the state that provide services to crime victims. The program arose out of the Washington State Office of Crime Victim Advocacy’s (OCVA) 2016 VOCA State Plan Update, which reported on the need for legal services for victims of crime. Recognizing that many civil legal problems arise from criminal acts directed at victims themselves, OCLA proposed to establish a comprehensive statewide system that connected civil legal aid attorneys with crime victim first responders – law enforcement, prosecuting attorneys, community-based advocates, shelter and human service providers, and others. Pursuant to an interagency agreement with OCVA, OCLA was able to subgrant with seven legal aid organizations identified in the Crime Victims Legal Program Plan.

  • The JGP has in-depth FAQs about legal aid and VOCA.
  • DOJ OVC’s resource map enables you to click on your state to find your state’s administering agency, information on events, statistics, compensation and assistance, and VOCA performance reports. The state’s assistance report shows data by year of the federal awards amount, the number of sub awards, and the balance remaining. It also provides information on the number of individuals VOCA-funded services served including legal services. If your state does not have an updated performance report (it should be FY2017), contact your state’s VOCA administrator for the most current information available.
  • The National Association of VOCA Assistance Administrators has a directory of all states' VOCA administering agencies.

In 2018, Workforce Tulsa adopted a new supportive services policy that includes providing legal aid to jobseekers to help with barriers to employment such as expunging or sealing old criminal records, obtaining or reinstating a revoked driver’s license or occupational license, resolving credit report problems, filing for domestic violence restraining orders, and assisting veterans with accessing healthcare, education grants, and housing services using Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) federal formula funds. In 2019, Workforce Tulsa and Legal Aid Society of Oklahoma (LASO) signed an MOU where Workforce Tulsa could refer clients and pay LASO for their services and ensure Tulsa jobseekers maximize their chance for getting and keeping a job.

The Justice in Government Project

Learn more about the Justice in Government Project.

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