March 12, 2021 - In Wisconsin and around the nation, we have seen bipartisan support for investments in civil legal aid. Making sure legal information, advice, and representation are available to people facing life-altering challenges is not only fair, but also smart because it makes courts more efficient and saves other public costs.
Wisconsin currently invests far fewer state funds in civil legal aid than any of our neighboring states. COVID-19 only made things worse by exacerbating issues such as income loss and domestic violence.
Two measures included in the budget proposal Gov. Tony Evers introduced on Feb. 16, 2021, would increase state investment in civil legal aid.
Indigent Civil Legal Assistance would create a new allocation of $2 million per year administered by the Department of Administration.
Grants for Civil Legal Services would increase the state’s current investment of federal Temporary Aid to Needy Families funding from $500,000 per year to $1,000,000 per year.
Both allocations would be disbursed to the Wisconsin Trust Account Foundation (WisTAF) — the nonpartisan, 501(3)c nonprofit organization established by the Wisconsin Supreme Court to administer civil legal aid funding — in order to make grants to civil legal aid providers throughout the state. WisTAF has a long and successful history of managing and monitoring civil legal aid grants that expand access to legal assistance for low-income individuals as a means of aiding in the administration of justice.
The new investments in the governor’s budget proposal, while relatively modest in the scope of the overall budget and still short of what is needed, will be a positive step forward for low-income clients as well as taxpayers. Based on available data, the measures could save the state approximately $15 million per year in other public costs,1 and help recover approximately $25 million per year to clients in the form of wages earned, rightful child support payments, rightful veterans’ or unemployment benefits, and more.2
What You Can Do: State Bar of Wisconsin Advocacy Network
State Bar members are encouraged to send a message to their lawmakers expressing support on legislative topics which positively affect the legal system using the Advocacy Network. The pre-written email message is editable to suit your own thoughts and opinions, and will help to demonstrate the breadth of support for a state budget that prioritizes access to justice.
You can also subscribe to the Rotunda Report and follow us on Twitter to stay informed and get involved in the legislative process.
1Task Force to Expand Access to Justice in New York, Nov. 2011 report (data extrapolated to Wisconsin)
2 Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission Report 2013, pg. 25