The DC Bar Foundation Urges Mayor Bowser and the DC Council to Fully Fund Legal Aid as part of the District’s COVID-19 Recovery
[District of Columbia, May6, 2020] –The DC Bar Foundation is urging Mayor Bowser and the DC Council to approve the DC Access to Justice Commission’s FY21 budget request of $19 million as part of the District’s COVID-19 Recovery efforts.
“Legal aid services have become essential during COVID-19, and will be needed even more while the District recovers. We are seeing a spike in the demand for legal services in all areas, from people who never thought they would need legal aid,” said Kirra Jarratt, the Bar Foundation’s CEO. “The District cannot afford to underfund legal aid, as all residents should have access to legal helpand services.”As unemployment continues to soar, and the longer shelter-in-place orders are in effect,residents are looking to the legal aid network to help them access affordable housing, protect wages and jobs, stabilize credit, help children and families get healthy, guard against domestic abuse, and protect District elders.
Mayor Bowser is expected to unveil the District’s FY21 budget on May 12th. The DC Access to Justice Commission says an investment in the civil legal aid network is critical to the District’s recovery. The aftermath of COVID-19 will increase the need for civil legal aid. Any cuts in funding will have a devastating impact on District residents who will need help. District workers will face unprecedented challenges and will need help navigating the unemployment compensation system and securing available benefits and protections –many for the first time in their lives.
The legal aid network has swiftly adapted to the COVID-19 environment by establishing virtual intake processes toensure the needs of the community are being met. Court-based services like resource and self-help centers were quickly converted to accessible phone lines. Walk-in clinics have been converted to virtual clinics offering one-on-one advice to District workers.
Legal aid attorneys are on the front-lines of assisting clients with finding resources to help with everyday needs such as free groceries, mental health services, and other critical items to help them cope through COVID-19.
Fully funding the Access to Justice Initiative is essential to the recovery of the District in the wake of COVID-19.
About the DC Bar Foundation: We work hand-in-hand with DC’s legal aid community to understand the legal issues facing DC’s poorest residents and how to solve these issues so that every individual, regardless of income, has access to justice. We invest in DC’s proven and emerging legal aid organizations that tackle these issues head-on using innovative means, such as court-based projects and medical-legal partnerships.