IL file photo
Indiana Legal Services, a civilian legal aid agency for low-income Hoosiers, will receive $9.24 million in federal funding for 2023 — a 15% increase over 2022 funding, which will help the nonprofit organization address pandemic-related issues such as rising to address demand and staffing shortages.
The money comes from the Legal Services Corporation of $560 million provided under the 2023 Omnibus Appropriations Bill signed by President Joe Biden on December 29, 1979.
LSC distributes federal funds to 132 different legal aid organizations across the country. Legal service providers are awarded a basic field allowance based on the poverty rate in their state.
According to the US Census Bureau’s 2021 estimates, an estimated 12.2% of Indiana’s population lived in poverty.
Last year, Indiana Legal Services received an onsite base grant of $8.03 million, compared to $8.12 million in 2021.
“We will use this money for its intended use, which is to provide additional legal assistance to low-income people who we would otherwise not be able to reach,” said Jon Laramore, Executive Director of ILS, of the 2023 funding increase.
Specifically, Laramore said the additional dollars will go towards expanding services with additional staff. The statewide nonprofit, like other legal aid agencies in Indiana, is having trouble filling attorney positions.
According to Laramore, ILS has about 95 attorneys spread across nine offices, with at least five attorney positions vacant.
To attract and retain “the best people,” Laramore said the agency has raised salaries to compete with other employers. Also, ILS is looking to strengthen its internal infrastructure, potentially adding some human resources to process applications faster and schedule interviews.
Meanwhile, the need for legal help among those in need has not slowed.
“We continue to have the same demand as during the pandemic,” Laramore said, explaining that the legal ramifications lag behind the actual course of the pandemic. “We are still seeing pandemic-related evictions. There continue to be domestic violence family law cases that can be linked to the pandemic.”
Laramore also found that demand is being driven by more people learning about ILS and the help that is offered.
“We’ve become better known during the pandemic,” Laramore said. “…And some of the people who didn’t know about us before are now reaching out to us.”
dollars and cents
In addition to the basic field grant, LSC grantees may carry over unspent grant funds from the previous year and use other funding streams. The recently released 2021 By the Numbers report provides data on the funding and types of services provided by Legal Aid grantees.
Indiana Legal Services contributed over $1.68 million and received $4.49 million in non-LSC funds in 2021, contributing to a total pot of $14.46 million. 2022 numbers are still being tabulated, but the nonprofit believes it received $5.1 million in non-LSC revenue.
The increase in funding ILS will receive in 2023 comes as Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush again asks lawmakers for more money for legal aid providers. Rush has asked the state to double its annual allocation to the Indiana Civil Legal Aid Fund to $3 million in the 2023-2024 state budget.
ILS received $682,336.36 from the sovereign wealth fund for fiscal 2020, the latest data available. Though the nonprofit’s grants are down from the $730,632.82 it received in fiscal 2017, Laramore said the state funds remain “very important.”
“This is really, really helpful funding because, like the LSC money, it’s what we call unrestricted. We can use it for any purpose for eligible customers,” Laramore said, speculating that the grant to ILS could double if the Legislature honors Rush’s request.
According to the By the Numbers report, LSC grantees completed more than 713,000 cases in 2021. The total represents an 8.2% increase from the 659,164 cases closed in 2020, but is lower than the 745,788 and 743,113 cases closed in 2019 and 2018, respectively.
Unlike in previous years, the number of residential cases closed by LSC grantees in 2021 exceeded that of family law cases. In 2021, LSC reported 252,436 completed housing cases compared to 208,479 family law cases.
ILS reported 14,758 closed cases in 2021, a 29% increase from 2020. However, while housing cases rose 56% to 2,984, family law still trumped with 4,563 closed cases. The biggest change for the nonprofit was the 2,432 eviction cases completed, a 74% increase from the previous year.
“We have no reason to believe that demand for our assistance with housing cases will decrease in 2023,” Laramore said, noting that his agency continues to operate clinics in courthouses across the state and to help tenants at risk of evictions, offers help. “We see no evidence that there will be a decline.”