Grants cut by 20% due to state budget woes

(CHICAGO)…The Illinois Equal Justice Foundation (IEJF) announced awards today of over $1.3 million in grants to 14 not-for-profit organizations providing legal representation, information and advice to low-income Illinoisans in legal crisis. The grants range in scope from funding for web-based legal information resources and telephone advice hotlines to mediation and full-scale litigation. Since its inception in 1999, the IEJF has awarded $20.6 million to organizations serving the civil legal needs of over 500,000 low-income families, seniors and veterans across Illinois.

State funding for civil legal aid is appropriated through the Illinois Equal Justice Act and passed through the budget of the Attorney General. The Act, approved by the General Assembly and signed into law in 1999, recognizes the State’s responsibility to ensure equal access to the legal system. The Act also created the IEJF to distribute the State’s appropriation for civil legal aid to not-for-profit organizations throughout the state. The high water mark for the appropriation was $3.5 million in 2007 which was slashed 50% in 2010. State funding for civil legal aid was cut 20% this year to $1.4 million. Of the ten most populous states, Illinois ranks ninth in what it spends on critical civil legal aid services. The average spent among the ten most populous states is $12.5 million.

The IEJF partnered with The Chicago Bar Foundation and the Social IMPACT Center of the Heartland Alliance last year to document the economic benefits of legal aid to the state. The study reported that in 2010 legal aid providers won $49.4 million in monetary awards for low –income clients in Illinois. Over a quarter of those awards were new federal dollars coming into the state’s economy. Each dollar spent on legal aid in Illinois by governments and private donors was associated with $1.80 in economic benefits for Illinoisans. The total economic benefits considered in the study exceeded spending on legal aid by $32.1 million.

“Legal aid programs are a proven cost effective tool in empowering people to resolve their legal issues and regain control of their lives,” said Karen Hasara, president of the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation. “The IEJF is proud to support the work of these dedicated organizations, but regret the need is far greater than our reduced grant budget can address.

The reduced grant budget resulted in 20% less funding for existing grantees as well the elimination of funding for three programs. One new grant was awarded to Health & Disability Advocates to support a pilot project to meet the legal needs of veterans and non-citizens with complex health benefits cases. A list of the 2013 grant awards is attached.

To learn more about the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation, visit www.iejf.org. To learn more about the Equal Justice Illinois Campaign, a bi-partisan effort to increase the state appropriation for civil legal services for the poor, visit www.equaljusticeillinois.org.

PDF: Press Release – Grants 2013