What does civil legal aid have to do with preventing homelessness among veterans and securing a job? And what does the Federal Government have to do with civil legal aid? Often times, a lot.
“Andy’s” 10-year-old felony conviction prevented him from pursuing his hopes of securing a state license to become a New York Licensed Practical Nurse. The Fortune Society, a grantee of U.S. Department of Labor’s Reintegration of Ex-Offenders Program, referred Andy to MFY Legal Services in New York. His legal aid lawyer helped Andy obtain out-of state criminal court records, gather proof of rehabilitation and represented him at the initial investigative interview. The result was a successful license application and a job.
Thanks to Supportive Services for Veterans Families program funding, the LSC-supported Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles helped “Jake,” a veteran experiencing homelessness who had spent many months moving from shelter to shelter, apply for VA benefits. The VA granted his request for a pension and provided him with medical care and a housing subsidy. Now Jake lives in a duplex and has reunited with his son.
These are just two case studies showing why, in July 2012, the White House Domestic Policy Council (DPC) and the U.S. Department of Justice launched the Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable (LAIR or Roundtable) to raise awareness about how civil legal aid helps advance a wide range of federal objectives by promoting access to health and housing, education and employment, family stability and community well-being. Associate Attorney General Tony West and Special Assistant to the President for Justice and Regulatory Policy at the White House Domestic Policy Council Tonya Robinson are co-chairs for LAIR, which is made up of 17 collaborating federal partners.
Staffed by the Justice Department’s Access to Justice Initiative (ATJ), an office Attorney General Eric Holder launched four years ago to help spearhead national efforts to expand access to civil legal aid and criminal indigent defense, ATJ launched a new LAIR Toolkit at the April 8, 2014, White House and Legal Services Corporation Forum on Increasing Access to Justice.
As explained in the Welcome Message from Attorney General Eric Holder and Assistant to the President and Director of the Domestic Policy Council Cecilia Munoz, “[t]he Roundtable’s work is premised on the recognition that applying the power of legal services to meet federal objectives creates more opportunities for Americans to grab the next rung on the ladder out of poverty… In short, legal services can transform lives for the better, and there is a role for the Federal Government to play in helping to ensure access to these critical services.”
The online resource guide contains useful information about civil legal aid and the intersection with many federal objectives. Associate Attorney General West told the White House event attendees, “You’ll see a series of what we call ‘case studies’ on how civil legal aid supports federal efforts—for example, to help people stay housed, prevent domestic violence, and keep kids in school. The wealth of information you’ll find at the Federal Agency Resources tab includes a listing by agency of selected grants and program activities for which civil legal aid providers are an eligible grantee, sub-grantee or partner, along with other examples of federal government activities that engage civil legal aid.”
ATJ will continue to post case studies on new topics throughout the year, along with updates to the Federal Agency Resources page. Some of the case studies already in queue include how Civil Legal Aid Supports Federal Efforts to help prevent elder abuse and consumer fraud, and how it helps people with disabilities, children and families, immigrants, Native Americans, and victims of disaster. Ideas about the new LAIR Toolkit content can be shared with the Access to Justice Initiative staff by writing to LAIR@usdoj.gov.