Federal leaders need to know how costly it would be to cut legal aid
In his June 5 op-ed, “Legal Services Corp. ensures equal justice for all,” Ralph Gants, chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, correctly argues that eliminating the Legal Services Corporation, which remains on the Trump administration’s federal budget chopping block despite strong advocacy from our state’s delegation, would have dire consequences for our nation’s most vulnerable people, including at-risk children, victims of domestic violence, and veterans. It would also have negative consequences for our nation’s bottom line.
Simply put, investing in civil legal aid programs pays dividends by avoiding back-end costs. The Boston Bar Association’s report “Investing in Justice” showed that taking a preventive approach to legal issues would help families, save government funds, and ensure fairness in our justice system.
As the chief justice pointed out, many legal aid clients are facing eviction and foreclosure. The Boston Bar’s report concluded that for every dollar spent on civil legal aid in housing cases, the government stands to save $2.69 on the costs of other public services, such as emergency shelter, health care, foster care, and law enforcement. This data has convinced Massachusetts legislators to give meaningful increases to legal aid year over year.
Gants eloquently states that Legal Services is so vital to our democracy that its elimination would warrant the removal of the phrase “with liberty and justice for all” from the Pledge of Allegiance. If this most fundamental form of persuasion cannot convince leaders in Washington, perhaps stating it in terms of simply saving money will.