Legal aid offices struggle with demand

BOSTON (WWLP) — As incomes go down in Massachusetts more than 100,000 additional people have become eligible for subsidized legal advice, for a total of almost one million people eligible overall.  Massachusetts legal aid offices get 1,600 calls a week from people in need of free or inexpensive legal services, but many people can’t be helped because of reduced funding.  Legal advocates say income from a key legal aid funding source, the Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (IOLTA) program, has dropped by more than 75 percent in the last four years. 

“We have to turn away more than half of everyone who comes to us whose eligible, who has a problem that we could handle because we just don’t have the capacity,” said Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation Executive Director Lonnie Powers.

Legal aid services include advice on divorce, disability, unemployment and immigration.  The Community Legal Aid office in Springfield says many people come to them with foreclosure problems.

“We’ve been able to go to court and challenge the validity of a foreclosure and really allowed homeowners to explore other options to keep the property,” said Allen Acosta, an attorney at the Community Legal Aid office in Springfield.

Governor Deval Patrick has proposed increasing legal aid in the state budget from $12 million to $15.5 million.  Legal aid advocates are asking lawmakers to do the same.

“It does seem like that we  are seeing a lot  more requests over the last couple of years than we were used to.  It’s just an issue of trying to manage those requests as best as we can and to try to help everyone that comes through our door,” said Lyonel Jean-Pierre, and attorney at the Community Legal Aid office in Worcester.

To qualify for legal aid, individuals must make less than 125 percent of the federal poverty line, or $566 dollars per week for a family of four.

Copyright 2014 WWLP TV. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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