Justice Gap Widens: Low-Income Americans Face Battle for Legal Help

At the end of each day, Elinor’s disabled daughter had to crawl four flights of stairs to their apartment.

It took more than an hour to get in and out of her building to attend school. She spent 30 minutes sliding down the steps just to reach the wheelchair stashed under the stairwell.

But by the grace of legal aid, Elinor was able to fight for a ground floor apartment without losing her $700 rent-control rate. That kind of help may not last, however, given the current political climate concerning legal aid.

The Legal Aid War

President Trump has proposed eliminating funds for the Legal Services Corp., which supports legal aid societies across the United States. Armed with statistics showing the desperate state of low-income Americans, legal aid is fighting back.

“Low-income Americans will receive insufficient or no legal help for an estimated 1.1 million eligible problems this year alone,” the corporation says in a report. “A lack of available resources accounts for the vast majority of eligible civil legal problems that go unserved or underserved.”

The Justice Gap: Measuring the Unmet Civil Legal Needs of Low-income Americans,” based on a survey of 2,000 low-income people, reveals that tens of millions of American are at risk due to poverty.

Ironically, the largest number of people below the poverty line live in the world’s seventh largest economy — California. The largest group of those low-income people — about 18 million nationwide — have children at home.

Fewer Services Ahead

In the survey, 70 percent of the respondents said they had at least one civil legal problem in the past year that affected them “very much” or “severely.” The most common problems involved health issues, finances, rent, child custody, education and disability.

According to a press release from the Legal Services Corp., “liberty and justice for all” is not true for poor Americans. They often have to “go it alone” when fighting for their jobs, livelihood, homes and families.

“This ‘justice gap’ — the difference between the civil legal needs of low-income Americans and the resources available to meet those needs — has stretched into a gulf,” the release said.

The American Bar Association, on its website, urges people to “tell Congress that you will fight” for the Legal Services Corp.

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