Legal Aid for Washington Fund Programs
Civil legal aid programs provide low income and vulnerable people with meaningful access to the justice system that can mean the difference between hunger and food on the table, bankruptcy and economic stability, unemployment and productive work. These services can be as simple as an advocate helping families navigate government agencies, writing letters or making phone calls to seek resolution. In many cases, civil legal help can be provided over the phone or in clinics with volunteer lawyers.
Some problems are more complex and require more attention from an advocate skilled in a particular area of the law. In King County, Columbia Legal Services, Unemployment Law Center, Seattle Community Law Center, Solid Ground Family Assistance Project, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, and TeamChild all have full-time poverty law attorneys on hand to assist low-income families and individuals facing complex non-criminal legal problems.
Other kinds of civil legal problems affect whole populations of low-income people and can only be addressed through impact advocacy that only charitably-funded legal aid programs can accomplish due to restrictions placed upon public funding for legal aid. For instance, the ability to initiate litigation that can make positive change for all children and youth in the foster care system in Washington state, or help tens of thousands secure public benefits to which they are entitled.
Recent Successes and Current Challenges
Funding for civil legal aid has dropped significantly, while the need for free legal services has skyrocketed since 2008.
We've been able to help bridge the gap with a generous contribution from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. They have committed $1.5 million over 3 years.
Also, in 2012, we had our most successful annual campaign to date, which raised over $1.4 million.
We are excited to have our new Campaign for Equal Justice Co-Chairs on board, retired WA State Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerry Alexander and Starbucks General Counsel Lucy Lee Helm.
Our current need continues to be ongoing operational support for our 23 grantee programs. The grant from the Gates Foundation, as well as other one time funds will come to an end in 3-5 years. In the meantime, our goal is to continue building support from individuals so that we don't face another funding crisis when the additional funds end.