May 25, 2017 – Members of the Joint Finance Committee voted unanimously to reinstate funding for civil legal needs during the committee’s executive session on May 23. Funding for civil legal needs was dangerously close to being eliminated after Governor Scott Walker had requested that the program be sunset for the 2017-19 biennial budget.
The Joint Finance Committee rejected the governor’s request and maintained the $1 million allocation to the Wisconsin Trust Account Foundation, Inc. (WisTAF) over the biennium to come out of the Federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. The grants from WisTAF must be for services related to domestic violence, sexual abuse, and restraining orders and injunctions for individuals at risk under s. 813.123.
Using funds designated in the 2015-17 biennial budget, WisTAF provided 13 grants to legal service providers in 2015-16. In that year alone, 781 clients in 45 counties were given the legal help they needed to overcome situations of domestic violence through the use of these funds. The State Bar of Wisconsin, along with the Access to Justice Commission, End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin, Disability Rights Wisconsin, Legal Action of Wisconsin, Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee, Centro Legal, and others, advocated for additional investment by the state of $2.5 million annually and removal of the funding restrictions in order to service more of Wisconsin’s most vulnerable citizens. When the proposal was put forth for a vote, however, legislative leaders decided to proceed at the current funding levels and with the same restrictions.
Cale Battles is a government relations coordinator with the State Bar of Wisconsin. He can be reached at org cbattles wisbar wisbar cbattles org, or by phone at (608) 250-6077.
Even without the additional monies, the continued funding by members of the Joint Finance Committee allows advocates to continue to demonstrate the wise investment that civil legal needs is, as evidence shows that for every $1 invested, Wisconsin’s civil legal aid providers obtain $10 for their low-income clients in the form of child support, security deposits, jobs obtained, and more.