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

Executive branch policymakers increasingly appreciate how incorporating civil legal help and 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. That help plays an invaluable role in solving underlying problems that trap people in poverty and closing the legal services gap in their states.

As this module demonstrates, JGP uses two approaches to support policy goals and civil legal partners. One approach focuses on a specific federal pass-through funding source that allows spending on legal aid and its role in advancing particular policy goals. The second approach focuses on a specific issue relevant to policymakers and legal aid – for example, helping people with criminal records get a second chance to succeed – which can tap several funding sources. 

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

Approach 1: issues especially relevant to state policymakers

With support from JGP, leaders of Arizona's Access to Justice Commission have been meeting with state policymakers to discuss how legal aid reduces barriers to employment, helps with re-entry, and keeps Arizonans working. Preparation for these meetings included the following mini-briefs:

Read the 1-pager on how legal aid reduces barriers to employment and helps re-entry efforts
Read the series of 1-pagers on how legal aid offers a second chance and keeps Arizonans working, helps fight the opioid epidemic, increases child support payments, and assists  domestic violence survivors 

Civil legal aid programs in Kentucky, Ohio, Oklahoma, and West Virginia are launching projects to provide legal help to children and their caregivers affected by the opioid crisis, funded by 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.

Across the nation, communities struggle to respond to the opioid crisis. The DOJ OVC invited proposals calling for a multi-disciplinary approach: “A strong link between crime victimization and substance abuse has been evidenced for some time, and these issues cannot be successfully addressed in ‘silos’ or by one discipline or agency.” These projects will work collaboratively with schools, law enforcement, health and social service providers, and other community partners.

With the National Legal Aid & Defender Association, JGP profiled these four projects and published a fact sheet about how legal aid is a critical partner in the opioid crisis

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.

The JGP worked with the Roundtable to present a handout about civil legal aid and how it can advance Hawaii’s priorities

 

Approach 2: specific funding sources that allow spending on legal aid

Learn more about how select states significantly expanded civil legal aid services for victims of crime with VOCA 

VOCA directs funding allocations to state agencies that make awards to direct service providers assisting crime victims. Three considerations made 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. 

In about 40 states, this effort has greatly increased 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 five states–Massachusetts, Washington, Vermont, Michigan, and Pennsylvania–launched statewide VOCA-funded legal-aid programs. The Justice in Government Project has compiled narratives, states' needs assessments, and other helpful tools to demonstrate how certain states significantly expanded legal services for victims of crime. 

Other helpful tools

The US Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime has a resource map where you 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. 

The National Association of VOCA Assistance Administrators has a directory of all states' VOCA administering agencies. 

The Justice in Government Project has in-depth FAQs about legal aid and VOCA. 

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. These three organizations did not directly benefit from the advocacy (i.e., receive a VOCA grant), a likely contributing factor in their success and paving the way for legal aid providers to significantly expand their services. 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. Because of LAAC’s advocacy, one grant RFP was specifically dedicated to victims’ legal assistance and others had language expressly allowing legal aid organizations. LAAC has since published a 2-pager on how civil legal aid helps after a disaster and is working to secure VOCA funding for legal aid organizations serving disaster victims. 

The Justice in Government Project worked with LAAC to present a narrative about how California expanded civil legal aid services for victims of crime.

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.

The Justice in Government Project worked with MAP to present a narrative about how Michigan expanded civil legal aid services for victims of crime.

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.

The Justice in Government Project worked with the MA ATJ Commission and MLAC to present a narrative about how Massachusetts expanded civil legal aid for crime victims.  

Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance’s press release for civil legal services available for Massachusetts 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 Justice in Government Project worked wih the OCLA to present a narrative about how Washington State expanded civil legal aid for crime victims. 

Washington State Office of Civil Legal Aid report, Civil Legal Aid to Crime Victims Program summary of VOCA-funded civil legal aid services to victims of crime

Washington State Civil Legal Aid to Crime Victims Plan

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 partnered with Workforce Tulsa to present a narrative of how they developed this policy

The Justice in Government Project

Learn more about the Justice in Government Project.

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