LSC funding and expansion strategy serves all 50 states

Most of the initial efforts of the new Corporation went into obtaining increased funds for the program from Congress. LSC conducted a study of the funding levels of local programs in relation to the population they served and found that over 40 percent of the nation’s poor people lived in areas where there was no legal services program at all, and many of those living in the remaining areas had only token access to legal assistance. On the basis of that report, the Corporation developed a “minimum access” plan, with the goal of providing a level of federal funding for LSC programs in every area of the country, including those where no programs had been established, that would support two lawyers for every 10,000 poor persons, based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s definition of poverty.

This funding and expansion strategy proved highly successful. LSC was able to transform the federal legal services program from one that had only served the predominantly urban areas of the nation to a program that provided legal assistance to poor people in virtually every county in the United States and in most of the U.S. territories.

In 1975, LSC inherited a program that was funded at $71.5 million annually. By 1981, the LSC budget had grown to $321.3 million. Most of this increase went into expanding to previously unserved areas, creating new legal services programs and greatly increasing the capacity of existing ones.

Based on the 1970 census figures, out of a total of 29 million poor people in 1975, 11.7 million had no access to a legal services program, and 8.1 million had access only to programs that were severely under-funded. In contrast, by 1981, LSC was funding 325 programs that operated in 1,450 neighborhood and rural offices throughout all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Micronesia, and Guam.

Although legal services program resources were still extremely limited, by 1981, LSC had achieved, albeit briefly, the initial goal of reaching “minimum access.” Each legal services program received LSC funding at a level sufficient to theoretically support two lawyers for every 10,000 poor people in its service area.