Module 3: State Examples How policymakers leverage existing resources to support legal aid

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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

AmeriCorps is a network of national service programs funded by The Corporation for National Community Service (CNCS) that enrolls members in volunteer community activities to improve and foster civic engagement. Several states and communities have increased access to justice and reduced burdens on courts by tapping into AmeriCorps funds and training non-lawyers to serve as "navigators" for litigants. Illinois' and California's JusticeCorps programs aim to provide legal help to self-represented people struggling in a complex legal system to resolve crucial matters affecting their family, housing, personal safety, and financial stability. After receiving assistance from JusticeCorps members, self-represented litigants report feeling more prepared, knowledgeable, and confident about their cases and require less assistance from court personnel.

The Justice in Government Project, supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts, presents a case study about the two JusticeCorps programs, and how they help self-represented litigants navigate the complex civil legal system while also facilitating greater efficiency for the courts. 

Congress passed the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act on March 27, 2020 to support individuals, businesses, and government organizations responding to the public health and economic impacts of COVID-19. Several state courts have tapped the CARES Act’s largest program to directly help state and local governments, the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF), as well as some of the other CARES Act appropriated funds, including the Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding Program (CESF), to help them with their pandemic response. New Hampshire and Kansas courts provide examples of successful proposals for state-administered CARES Act authorized awards from CRF and CESF to support access to justice in the courts, enabling telework, remote proceedings, online document assembly, and the installation of computer terminals in courthouses and other public facilities for self-represented litigants and individuals without internet access in their homes.

The Justice in Government Project, supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts, presents a case study about how two state courts have tapped state-administered CARES Act authorized awards from CRF and CESF to help them with their pandemic response.

The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program is administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and provides annual grants to states, cities, and counties to ensure affordable housing and to provide services to low- and middle-income people. In 2017, Philadelphia City Council and the City's Department of Planning and Development launched the Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project (PEPP), a collaboration among six organizations that provides comprehensive legal and social services to low-income tenants facing eviction. PEPP received $500,000 for the project - braiding together local government and CDBG funds - to provide a range of services including a Tenant Hotline, Lawyer of the Day program, Court Navigators, a tenant hotline, pro bono support, financial counseling, and community outreach through tenants' rights workshops. Between January 1, 2018 and September 30, 2020, nearly 110,000 people accessed legal self-help materials, legal information and videos through PhillyTennant.org and 4,800 tenants received direct legal advice or representation.

The Justice in Government Project, supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts, presents a case study about how PEPP advocates, supported by CDBG funds, help improve tenants' case outcomes and prevent homelessness and housing instability.

STOP (Services, Training, Officers, and Prosecutors) Violence Against Women Formula Grants are awarded by the U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women to states, Tribes, and territories to develop and strengthen the criminal justice system's response to violence against women and to support and enhance services for victims. Several STOP grants awarded to state courts in 2017 and 2018 supported technological innovations including e-filing, online hubs of resources for petitioners and self-represented litigants, and informational videos on the court process for obtaining orders for protection.

The Justice in Government Project, supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts, presents a case study about how six state courts have used STOP funding to enhance remote services and increase access to civil justice for victims of domestic violence.

Title IV-D of the Social Security Act establishes a state-federal partnership to provide child support services. States often enter cooperative agreements with local courts to provide child support services to Title IV-D eligible parents, and receive partial cost reimbursement from the federal government. In December 2016, a new federal rule clarified that Title IV-D funds can be used to increase self-represented parents’ access to courts, and administrative and alternative dispute resolution processes. Ottawa County, Michigan utilized Title IV-D funding to launch a set of online dispute resolution (ODR) tools including texts to noncustodial parents regarding case status updates, texts about upcoming hearings, and a hearing check-in system to improve prehearing conferences. By 2018, these ODR tools contributed to favorable outcomes for parents and courts in Ottawa County, including a 24 percent reduction in the number of show-cause hearings, a 29 percent reduction in the number of monthly child support-related arrest warrants, and a 28 percent increase in child support collections, increasing the financial resources available to custodial parents and their children while also unlocking additional federal incentive payments to the county. 

The Justice in Government Project, supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts, presents a case study about how Ottawa County, Michigan utilized Title IV-D funds to support ODR tools, improving parent services and increasing court efficiency.

Title IV-E of the Social Security Act establishes a state-federal partnership for the cost of providing foster care, adoption assistance, and kinship guardianship assistance programs. The program permits Title IV-E state agencies to claim federal reimbursement for a portion of expenditures for eligible children who are removed from the home and placed in foster care. January 2019 revised federal policy permits matching funds to help pay for costs of independent legal representation for a child who is a candidate for Title IV-E foster care or in foster care and the child's parent. In December 2020, Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma (LASO) became one of the first legal aid organizations to contract with a state agency to use Title IV-E funds for representing parents involved in neglect and abuse cases. LASO's contract with the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS) provides reimbursement costs associated with representing parents — including attorneys, social workers, and peer mentors — to help prevent children from being removed from their parent’s care.

The Justice in Government Project, supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts, presents a case study about how LASO contracts with OKDHS to use Title IV-E funds to provide interdisciplinary parent representation and keep Oklahoman families safely together. 

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.

NLADA CASE STUDIES

Vermont Legal Aid’s LAIRS (Legal Advocacy in Recovery Services) project is a medical-legal partnership in three treatment facilities in Vermont. It is part of the wraparound services that Vermont has embraced for its patients involved in Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) programs. LAIRS is funded by the Division of Alcohol & Drug Abuse Programs (ADAP) at the Vermont Department of Health, using SAMHSA State Opioid Response (SOR) funding. Vermont Legal Aid’s goal is to offer legal services to provide a full range of legal services to 200 clients with substance use disorder experiencing legal problems affecting their health and recovery, such as housing issues and homelessness, job and housing discrimination due to having a criminal record, custody of children, access to transportation, license suspension, and public benefit denials.

The National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA) launched a leadership cohort that utilized a peer learning model to support collaborative and holistic delivery of civil legal aid through the Project to Advance Civil Legal Aid Collaborations (PACC). NLADA created a collection of six case studies on the members’ projects, their partnerships, and how they funded their work. The case studies also contain supporting documents, ranging from training materials for partnering staff to grant details and MOUs.

The goal of Legal Aid of West Virginia’s (LAWV) Lawyer in the School Project is to stabilize the lives of elementary school children who attend Title I schools in some of West Virginia’s most challenged communities by providing legal help to families on issues including eviction, disrupted income, and legal custody. The model was initially developed as an LSC pro bono grant, but once Project staff identified substance use disorder as a major issue for the families they served, LAWV applied for and received the Enhancing Community Responses to the Opioid Crisis: Servicing Our Youngest Victims grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime. With this funding, the Project provides onsite legal help to affected children and their caregivers at regular school-based clinics in Marion, Cabell, and Wayne counties, screens families to determine whether they are in need of longer term direct representation, provides legal information presentations to school families, and participates in a community response network.

The National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA) launched a leadership cohort that utilized a peer learning model to support collaborative and holistic delivery of civil legal aid through the Project to Advance Civil Legal Aid Collaborations (PACC). NLADA created a collection of six case studies on the members’ projects, their partnerships, and how they funded their work. The case studies also contain supporting documents, ranging from training materials for partnering staff to grant details and MOUs.

Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services (TALS) is a statewide nonprofit that provides support, coordination, legislative monitoring, training opportunities, resource development, and other services to civil legal assistance providers throughout Tennessee. In 2017, TALS, in partnership with Memphis Area Legal Services (MALS) and the Tennessee Department of Human Services (TDHS), initiated a pilot program to provide direct legal services to families experiencing multi-generational poverty to help them overcome income barriers and establish economic stability. The Cycles of Success model begins with a Legal Wellness Checkup to identify families’ civil legal problems and the resources available to them. Legal aid attorneys can then provide advice and counsel, full representation, limited scope assistance, or coaching with use of self-help resources. During the pilot phase, TALS also offered monthly coaching calls to clients and trainings on how to identify legal problems to community problems.

The National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA) launched a leadership cohort that utilized a peer learning model to support collaborative and holistic delivery of civil legal aid through the Project to Advance Civil Legal Aid Collaborations (PACC). NLADA created a collection of six case studies on the members’ projects, their partnerships, and how they funded their work. The case studies also contain supporting documents, ranging from training materials for partnering staff to grant details and MOUs.

Sparked by large community need among youth with criminal records in communities of color and low-income neighborhoods, Legal Aid Chicago began the Juvenile Desk with a project run by an AmeriCorps VISTA attorney in 2010. The Juvenile Desk is a free walk-in help desk that provides expungement assistance and assistance filing paperwork. Legal Aid Chicago has since broadened its work to assist clients with other employment-related needs with funding from private foundations and the Cook County Justice Advisory Council. Over the past 10 years, it has grown from assisting fewer than 50 expungements per year to its current rate of 2,000 to 2,500 per year and partners with Cabrini Green Legal Aid, Northwestern University, the State’s Attorney, the Cook County Justice Advisory Council, local high schools, Storycatchers Theatre, alternative high schools, and the courts.

The National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA) launched a leadership cohort that utilized a peer learning model to support collaborative and holistic delivery of civil legal aid through the Project to Advance Civil Legal Aid Collaborations (PACC). NLADA created a collection of six case studies on the members’ projects, their partnerships, and how they funded their work. The case studies also contain supporting documents, ranging from training materials for partnering staff to grant details and MOUs.

Since 2015 and 2014 respectively, Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma (LASO) has partnered with Muscogee Creek Nation’s (MCN) Reintegration Program and The Education and Employment Ministry’s (TEEM) Reentry Services Program to provide a range of legal services to individuals experiencing barriers to employment due to having a criminal record.

MCN’s Reintegration Program provides reentry services, such as housing, assistance with food and clothing, community services, and career development, to Muscogee Creek tribal members. The Reintegration Program received funding from the Tribe through legislation in 2007 and from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation multiple times over the next six years.

Pre-release and for 12 months post-release, TEEM’s Reentry Services Program provides individuals who are incarcerated services including GED preparation, job skills training, computer navigation, resume writing, interview coaching, mentorship, and legal aid. A LASO attorney, funded as a subgrantee to a OneStop Department of Labor grant, is embedded at TEEM.

The National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA) launched a leadership cohort that utilized a peer learning model to support collaborative and holistic delivery of civil legal aid through the Project to Advance Civil Legal Aid Collaborations (PACC). NLADA created a collection of six case studies on the members’ projects, their partnerships, and how they funded their work. The case studies also contain supporting documents, ranging from training materials for partnering staff to grant details and MOUs.

In 2017, Maryland Legal Aid (MLA) successfully proposed the expansion of the One Baltimore For Jobs (1B4J) Program – a wraparound workforce development program including legal services for low-income Baltimoreans funded by demonstration funds from the U.S. Department of Labor – to two additional sites outside of Baltimore City. At these new “One Stop Centers” in Prince George’s and Allegany counties, staff attorneys provide legal wellness checks and “Know Your Rights” sessions for all clients. The sessions address a wide range of topics including child support, consumer rights, tenant rights, domestic violence, expungement eligibility, pardons, probation, and employment discrimination issues. Eligible applicants receive brief advice and counsel, representation for criminal record expungements, or appropriate referrals for extended legal representation through MLA’s full-service offices or other legal services providers.

The National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA) launched a leadership cohort that utilized a peer learning model to support collaborative and holistic delivery of civil legal aid through the Project to Advance Civil Legal Aid Collaborations (PACC). NLADA created a collection of six case studies on the members’ projects, their partnerships, and how they funded their work. The case studies also contain supporting documents, ranging from training materials for partnering staff to grant details and MOUs.

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New case study

In 2017, Philadelphia City Council and the City's Department of Planning and Development launched the Philadelphia Eviction Prevention Project (PEPP), a collaboration among six organizations that provides comprehensive legal and social services to low-income tenants facing eviction. PEPP received $500,000 for the project - braiding together local government and CDBG funds - to provide a range of services including a Tenant Hotline, Lawyer of the Day program, Court Navigators, a tenant hotline, pro bono support, financial counseling, and community outreach through tenants' rights workshops.

The Justice in Government Project, supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts, presents a case study about how PEPP advocates, supported by CDBG funds, help improve tenants' case outcomes and prevent homelessness and housing instability.

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