Equal Justice Coalition, Politics, State Funding

Civil Legal Aid Oversight Committee Approves 2017-2019 Budget Request

By Kristin Parker

On Friday, June 10, 2016 the Civil Legal Aid Oversight Committee unanimously approved the Office of Civil Legal Aid’s (OCLA) “Civil Justice Reinvestment Plan.”

In an attempt to address the sobering findings of the 2015 Civil Legal Needs Study Update, which found that a full 76% of low-income Washingtonians experiencing a civil legal problem are unable to get any sort of help, OCLA’s Reinvestment Plan proposes to increase the state’s investment in civil legal aid by $31.5M over the course of four years. If fully enacted by the legislature, the agency’s current appropriation of $24.8M would increase to $56.3M by 2021.

The Reinvestment Plan would be phased in over the course of two biennium (i.e. two budget cycles). For the 2017-2019 budget, OCLA will request $13,075,000 of the $31.5M. If fulfilled by the Washington Legislature, the remainder of the $31.5M would be requested as part of the 2019-2021 budget.

The findings of the Civil Legal Needs Study Update are the basis of OCLA’s Civil Justice Reinvestment Plan, which essentially seeks to solve the access to justice crisis in our state. Earlier this year, OCLA convened legal aid providers from across the state to provide input and help craft the elements of this plan.

The Civil Justice Reinvestment Plan aims to rectify the findings of the Civil Legal Needs Study Update by:

  • Increasing the number of staff legal aid attorneys to create more accessible and equitable services;
  • Increasing the number of pro bono hours donated by private attorneys;
  • Creating self-help and technology-based tools that will assist low-income Washingtonians identify their civil legal problems and find help; and,
  • Creating a statewide infrastructure and support system to ensure that staff and volunteer attorneys are delivering the highest quality services.

To make justice for all a reality in Washington, the Equal Justice Coalition will be mobilizing its supporters to advocate on behalf of OCLA’s 2017-2019 funding request. EJC supporters are convening on June 29th from 9:30am – 11:30am at the Washington State Bar Association to discuss the substance of OCLA’s Reinvestment Plan and strategize for the 2017 legislative session. If you’re interested in attending this meeting, please contact me. And, to stay up-to-date on the progress of these efforts, sign up for EJC Action Alerts and engage with the EJC on Facebook and Twitter.