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State Funding for Legal Aid Increased by $4.8M

By LFW

A Letter from Sal Mungia, Chair of the Equal Justice Coalition

Dear Colleagues and Friends:

You are a true example of the power of grassroots advocacy. Because of your efforts, the Washington State Legislature increased funding for civil legal aid by $4.8 million! Thank you for everything you’ve done to raise awareness and support for legal aid.

While we all know that this increase is not enough to close the justice gap, it is a much needed step towards ensuring access to justice for low-income Washingtonians. And the Legislature noted in its budget bill that this appropriation was “to partially implement the civil justice reinvestment plan,” indicating their recognition of the need for additional revenues in future biennia.  Please take a few minutes to send your legislators a thank you note.

After a long six-month legislative session, the House and Senate finally agreed on a Fiscal Year 2017-2019 operating budget on Friday, June 30th. Late that night, Governor Inslee signed the budget to narrowly avoid a partial government shutdown. In a budget year when legislators struggled with issues such as education, mental health, and transportation, to receive a $4.8 million increase for legal aid (roughly a 20% increase in funding) is a gratifying result.

During FY 2017-2019, the new funding for legal aid will:

  • Create 15 new staffed civil legal aid attorneys;
  • Increase the capacity of pro bono programs across the state;
  • Invest in research and training for legal aid and pro bono attorneys; and,
  • Provide Northwest Justice Project attorneys with long overdue cost of living and salary adjustments.

As you may recall, we entered this session asking the Legislature to increase funding for legal aid by roughly $12 million – which would have been a 50% increase in funding to address the significant disparities identified in the 2015 Civil Legal Needs Study Update. Although we didn’t receive the full request, the $4.8 million increase is a solid first step in narrowing the funding gap for civil legal aid. We will continue to work with the legislature to achieve the $12 million increase.  With your help we will accomplish that goal.  Here’s a snapshot of our accomplishments during session:

  • Legal Aid Lobby Day brought 100+ people (representing 30+ legislative districts) to Olympia for a day of grassroots lobbying. We met with nearly 90 members of the Legislature to advocate for increased funding for legal aid;
  • Op-eds from well-respected Washingtonians ran in the Tacoma News Tribune, The Chronicle, The Olympian, and The Spokesman Review;
  • The House’s budget included a $7.6 million increase for legal aid, and for the first time ever, House democrats specifically identified civil legal aid as a priority in their external communications and interviews with the media;
  • Our statewide coalition and network of support greatly expanded. Law firms from around the state, corporate counsels from Washington’s largest companies (e.g. Starbucks, Microsoft and Amazon), and business leaders all publicly expressed their support for increased funding for legal aid; and,
  • We have built momentum for securing additional funding for civil legal aid down the road.

None of these successes would have been possible without your continued support, commitment, and willingness to speak out for equal justice. Together, we’ve accomplished a lot and we’ve laid the groundwork to continue this effort in future years. Through education and advocacy, we will continue to make progress to achieve equal access to justice for low-income families and individuals in our state.

It is an honor working with you. Our achievements this year would not have happened but for you efforts.

Sincerely,

 

 

Salvador A. Mungia
Chair, Equal Justice Coalition