Friday, July 18, 2008

Legal Services of New Jersey
Hit Hard by Economic Downturn:
Must Raise $9 Million to Avoid
Cuts in Staff and Services

In the July 10, 2008 issues of The Star-Ledger, Kate Coscarelli reports:

"The primary funding source for Legal Services of New Jersey has dropped at a more precipitous rate than anticipated, and it is already projecting a $21.5 million shortfall for the 2009 fiscal year . . . . The agency received a $4 million increase in state funding under New Jersey's new budget, bringing its total appropriation from the state to $20 million. But [the Agency's president, Melville D.] Miller said it would need almost $9 million more to avoid having to cut staff and services. 'Nearly all civil legal problems of low-income people occur in state courts or agencies,' Miller said. 'If people are to have the fundamental and constitutional right of 'equal justice under the law' fulfilled, the state must step up to what fundamentally is primarily a state obligation.'

The state budget is one of several sources of revenue for the agency. For the past two years it has covered more than half its $72 million annual budget from interest earned on certain accounts lawyers keep for clients, called the New Jersey Supreme Court Interest on Lawyers' Trust Accounts program. The past two years have seen record revenues for that fund, and much of the extra money went to Legal Services, allowing it to take on more cases and hire staff. But declines in the real estate market, interest rates and the overall economy have sharply reduced the income from the accounts." The US District Court has awarded the organization a one-time emergency grant of $300,000."

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