White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable Issues First Annual Report to the President
The Justice Department today issued the first annual report of the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable (WH-LAIR) to President Obama. The report, entitled “Expanding Access to Justice, Strengthening Federal Programs,” documents the significant steps that the 22 federal agency members of WH-LAIR have taken to integrate civil legal aid into programs designed to serve low-income and vulnerable people. The Attorney General and the Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council (DPC) co-chair WH-LAIR.
“Ensuring equal access to justice is an essential part of our work to empower the most vulnerable members of our society,” said Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch. “Many vital efforts -- from preventing human trafficking to improving access to health benefits – depend on citizens’ ability to receive meaningful legal aid. The White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable was established to help close the justice gap and provide legal assistance to Americans in need. It is a privilege to send this report to President Obama. It describes the progress we have made, and it lays out a vision for this critical work in the years to come.”
“The White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable has become indispensable in helping the federal government establish partnerships with legal aid providers that push federal programming forward and ensure that essential services reach the communities that need them most,” said Cecilia Muñoz, White House DPC Director and WH-LAIR Co-Chair.
Civil legal aid is free legal assistance to low-income and underserved people with often life-altering legal problems, including domestic violence, child support, foreclosure, eviction, unemployment and debt, among other issues. Legal aid also helps people access basic necessities such as health care, housing, government benefits, employment and educational services. Civil legal aid is particularly vital because unlike criminal cases where there is typically a constitutional right to counsel, there is no right to a lawyer in most civil cases, leaving many low- and moderate-income Americans without any legal assistance.
Recognizing the power of legal aid to both increase the availability of meaningful access to justice and improve outcomes in many federal programs, WH-LAIR agencies have been working together since 2012 to integrate legal aid into their programs, policies and initiatives. Staffed by the DOJ Office for Access to Justice (ATJ), WH-LAIR has engaged federal grantees, legal aid providers and federal agency staff to raise awareness about how legal aid advances federal priorities. As set out in the report, accomplishments include dozens of federal grants that have now been clarified to ensure that legal aid can be included in the range of services provided to people in areas like health care, domestic violence, homelessness and prisoner reentry; new training and technical assistance to grantees and legal aid providers; and research about the impact of civil legal aid. WH-LAIR also created the WH-LAIR website and Toolkit, online resources that provide information about civil legal aid and how it helps advance a broad array of federal objectives as well as available federal funding opportunities and other resources.
In the 2015 Presidential Memorandum that formally established the interagency collaboration as a White House initiative, President Obama said, “equal access to justice…advances the missions of an array of federal programs, particularly those designed to lift Americans out of poverty or to keep them securely in the middle class.” The memorandum called on WH-LAIR to report annually on its successes.
The report addresses key federal priorities where civil legal aid improves program outcomes: accessing health services and improving health, expanding access to housing and preventing homelessness, strengthening families and keeping children in school, keeping Americans working and getting jobs, enhancing public safety and helping crime victims, and combatting fraud and protecting consumers. It also describes agencies’ efforts to partner with legal aid organizations to meet the needs of special populations, including veterans and servicemembers, tribes and tribal members, people with disabilities, people with criminal records, immigrants and disaster survivors. The report includes research and data on the efficacy of legal aid and provides numerous examples of how WH-LAIR agencies’ work has touched millions of Americans.
The report can be found at www.justice.gov/lair/annualreport.