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OPINION: Legal aid services are at risk


Just as the Good Samaritan accompanied the man he found robbed and injured on the road, our legal aid nonprofit law firms accompany low-income Ohioans as they achieve stable housing, safety from domestic violence, financial stability, and better health.

Yet President Trump’s proposal to defund the Legal Services Corporation puts our legal aids and the critical services they provide at significant risk.

Ohio’s legal aids serve more than 110,000 vulnerable Ohioans annually. Nearly 6,000 Dayton-area residents benefit from free legal assistance provided by Legal Aid of Western Ohio Inc. and Advocates for Basic Legal Equality Inc. In fact, this year is the 50th anniversary of legal aid in Dayton.

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The firms help low-income veterans access the veterans’ benefits that they earned during their time in the military. They also help disadvantaged veterans to preserve safe and stable housing. For example, when a Vietnam-era veteran who suffers from muscular dystrophy and is wheelchair bound experienced medical complications from her illness, she fell behind on her mortgage payments. When her bank began foreclosing on her home, she reached out to legal aid.

Legal aid helped her save her house and put her back on financial track. Without legal aid, she would become one of those tragic, homeless veterans whom we continue to struggle to house; but thanks to legal aid, she remains a stable and contributing member of our community.

Legal aid receives roughly one-third of its funding from the federal Legal Services Corporation. In Ohio, that is approximately $12.4 million out of an almost $40 million, statewide budget. Without those federal dollars, Ohio’s legal aids will be forced to reduce the services they provide. Recent studies estimate that 80 percent of civil legal needs are currently unmet. That number will only grow if federal funding is lost.

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Like helping the injured traveler and the ill veteran, funding legal aid is a sound public investment. Legal aid saves taxpayer dollars in both the short and long term. When legal aid helps a mom who is the victim of domestic violence obtain a protection order that keeps her abuser away from her and her children, we begin to break the cycle of domestic violence. When legal aid helps a low-income family obtain individualized services that help their child succeed in school, legal aid helps break the school to prison pipeline. When legal aid helps a Miami Valley senior avoid financial fraud, we honor our seniors and keep them safe and independent.

Ours is a country built on the idea of equal access to justice. Our pledge is a daily reminder of our “liberty and justice for all.” Legal aid helps us fulfill that promise. Thus, we must ensure that Congress funds the Legal Services Corporation at its current level. We commend Congressman Mike Turner for signing a congressional letter in support of LSC funding. We need your support, too.

Without legal aid, justice will be unavailable to those who need it most – those who have fallen on the road and need someone to walk with them.

Bro. Raymond L. Fitz, S.M., Ph.D., is the Fr. Ferree Professor of Social Justice and past president of the University of Dayton.



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