Over the last few years, we have come to realize that our lives can change rapidly. Job loss, sudden medical bills, and even natural disasters can strike without notice. The economic impact of the pandemic is making low-income people even leaner.
For people without a financial safety net, both here in Kansas and across the country, problems like this can have a domino effect, leaving families without a roof over their heads.
Civil legal aid providers are the first responders families can turn to for help. Whether it’s fighting wrongful evictions and foreclosures, obtaining protection orders, obtaining benefits or unpaid wages, accessing health care, or dealing with debt collection or fraud, legal aid providers can help lower-income people reach justice. It makes a huge difference in your ability to access it.
According to the Justice Gap Report recently released by the Legal Services Corporation last year, low-income Americans received no or inadequate legal assistance for 92% of their civil litigation matters. 74% of low-income households nationwide face at least one civil litigation issue of hers, up from pre-pandemic numbers.
This report outlines the growing legal needs of low-income Americans and the ever-widening gap between those needs and the resources available to meet them. found to be one of the most serious areas of legal concern.
In 2020, the Kansas Legal Service surveyed court officials and community advocates, along with low-income Kansasians. All three groups cited housing as the top legal need for low-income Kansasians, with affordability, safety, landlord disputes, and eviction/foreclosure as primary concerns.
At KLS, the number of housing issues brought in has skyrocketed, and attorneys are doing everything they can to keep up. They will help him with 2,063 housing deals in 2021. This is his 49% increase from 2020.
Nearly 280 eviction petitions are filed each week throughout Kansas. In its first report last year on best practices in eviction proceedings, the Kansas Supreme Court Select Committee found that 75% of these petitions lead to default rulings.
In criminal cases, individuals have the right to have an attorney. In civil proceedings, no such right exists. For residents, navigating the maze of legal procedures in case of eviction can prove too difficult without professional legal assistance.
KLS works hard to help as many Kansasians as possible through direct representation, negotiation, or educational resources. KansasLegalServices.org’s web traffic clearly shows how much need there is. The landlord/tenant issues page has 75,000 views each year.
LSC-funded legal aid organizations like KLS have handled more than 300,000 housing cases nationwide in 2021, but this is just beginning to scratch the surface. LSC grantees are unable to provide legal assistance for approximately half of eligible issues.
The need for legal aid is huge, but despite inflation, recession, rising poverty and the current pandemic, Congress’ allocation of legal aid has increased by only 28% over the past 28 years. . That alone is not enough to meet your needs.
More than 300,000 Kansasians live in poverty. KLS wants to help more users and needs more resources to scale up the service.
What can we do to address the access to justice crisis? More individuals and organizations need to provide financial support for civil legal aid services, and more voices are calling , should say that funding equal justice is a priority.
As noted justice activist Brian Stevenson said: The opposite of poverty is justice. ”
Marilyn Harp is Executive Director of Kansas Legal Services. Ronald Flagg is President of Legal Services Corporation.