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Pennsylvania Legal Aid – Helping to Ensure Justice Statewide


      It was an honor to recently be invited to be the Keynote Speaker at Pennsylvania Legal Aid’s 2011 Excellence Awards Banquet. Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network (PLAN) is a client-centered organization that provides leadership, funding, and support to improve the availability and quality of civil legal aid for low-income people and victims of domestic violence in Pennsylvania.

      In these difficult economic times, the need for legal aid has skyrocketed. Because of the recession, more Pennsylvanians are eligible for representation, and many more face pressing problems, such as the potential loss of their home or family medical expenses. Legal aid helps nearly 10,000 clients every year who are faced with mortgage foreclosure.

      In 2005, I was humbled to receive a leadership award from PLAN for supporting the development of the Older & Wiser program. Older & Wiser is a public education program designed to provide legal information to older Pennsylvanians through a unique partnership of state legislators, legal aid programs, bar associations, pro bono attorneys, law firms, foundations and businesses.

      I was honored to join this year’s Excellence Award recipients and speak at their annual banquet. The work of the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network is honorable and vitally important as more of our residents require civil legal assistance in resolving critical problems involving such basic needs as shelter, health care, income and personal safety. I applaud these individuals, who everyday give those who have nowhere else to turn, equal access to justice.

      A news story on the 2011 Excellence Awards has been posted on the PA Legal Aid website.

Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network (PLAN) is the statewide affiliation of legal aid programs, annually representing over 100,000 low income clients.

  • Every county is served by legal aid.
  • Approximately 54% of the services of civil legal aid are provided to rural Pennsylvanians.
  • Considering the size of a typical family, the annual representation of over 100,000 clients benefits well over 300,000 people, many of them children.

  • The Governor’s proposed budget for 2011-2012 would continue SSBG funding at the current level. The state appropriation to legal services has declined in the last three years.
  • In FY 2008-09, DPW implemented a $100,000 freeze in funding that had already been appropriated.
  • In FY 2009-10, the prior year’s freeze was incorporated into the budget and the cut increased to $108,000. During the 2009-2010 FY, another $31,000 was frozen.
  • In FY 2010-2011, there has been a combination of a cut in the appropriation and a $30,000 freeze, resulting in yet another reduction in funding.
  • State general fund support for legal aid today remains very close to the actual amount appropriated in 1976.

Cases Handled by Legal Aid: Fiscal Year 2009-2010

Pro Bono Work by Attorneys

      Attorneys willing to provide their skills and services free of charge are a valuable and important resource in the effort to provide fair representation to low-income individuals and families. The Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network programs work with local bar associations to provide pro bono referral networks across Pennsylvania.

       PAProbono.net is also a resource to support advocates in their efforts to provide legal aid to the poor.

Helping Those Who Reach Out to Help Others   

      The legislature is working to help increase the number of attorneys who pursue this kind of valuable and critical work. I, along with my colleague Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, have championed legislation (SB 860) that would provide repayment assistance to qualified applicants employed by eligible organizations.

      While we have not been able to convince a majority of the members in both chambers of the General Assembly to pass this legislation, the PA Supreme Court has been able to assist attorneys looking to take on the ever-growing body of casework for indigent Pennsylvanians.

Loan Repayment Assistance Program Loan Repayment Assistance Program       Last year, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania announced a student loan forgiveness program for attorneys employed by agencies that help people who cannot afford legal representation. In September, the Loan Repayment Assistance Program — or LRAP — began receiving applications for reimbursements for student loans to attorneys working for at least one year with a qualified agency that provides legal assistance in civil matters to indigent Pennsylvanians.

      They use proceeds from the fees out-of-state lawyers must pay to practice in Pennsylvania courts. The so-called pro hac vice fees fund a three-year grant to administer the program by the Interest On Lawyers’ Trust Account (IOLTA) Board with the Pennsylvania Bar Foundation, a charitable affiliate of the Pennsylvania Bar Association.

      A recently graduated attorney, who is employed by a legal aid organization funded by IOLTA, is eligible to have $2,000 in student loan debt forgiven. An attorney can apply for up to 10, one-year forgivable loans over the tenure of qualified employment, provided the eligibility requirements are met.

Stay Connected

        For updates on this and other legislative initiatives, stay in touch with me on the Internet through my website or on Facebook. Facebook





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