GUEST OP-ED: Governor’s budget would cut critical programs

  • Robert Johns/ Guest Op-Ed
  • Jan 31, 2018

Helen is a senior citizen who is hearing impaired. Because Helen owns her home, she was shocked when she was served with court eviction papers. 

Unbeknownst to Helen, a private company had purchased a $500 garbage bill she owed and filed a foreclosure action against her. Helen was never served with the foreclosure court papers, but a default judgment was entered against her anyway. The home was sold at judicial sale and Helen was ordered to vacate the home she had paid for. An AppalReD Legal Aid attorney appeared with Helen at the eviction hearing and began fighting on Helen’s behalf. Thanks to the work of AppalReD Legal Aid, the foreclosure case was ultimately dismissed, and Helen’s home was saved.

Services like these would go away if the Governor’s current budget proposal is successful in cutting all program funding for Access to Justice. Kentucky’s civil legal aid programs serve the working poor, seniors, veterans, people with disabilities, nursing home residents, and victims of domestic violence. Access to Justice helped more than 55,000 low-income Kentuckians in over 22,000 cases just last year.

Kentucky’s four civil legal aid programs, including AppalReD Legal Aid, Legal Aid of the Bluegrass, The Legal Aid Society, and Kentucky Legal Aid, provide a service no one else provides for low-income Kentuckians. They are the only Kentucky programs helping low-income individuals with a wide array of civil legal problems like domestic violence, home foreclosure, child abuse and neglect, wrongful eviction from a nursing home, and expungement. Nearly a quarter of Kentuckians are eligible for services and would have severely limited access to the legal system to resolve serious problems if not for civil legal aid.

Denial of justice has a cost to every community: increased costs to law enforcement and shelters when the factors involved in domestic violence are not resolved; increased costs to local governments due to decreased property values and loss of tax revenue in areas blighted by foreclosures; increased costs to local emergency rooms when uninsured people are not enrolled in public benefits, like Medicaid, to which they may be entitled. For every dollar spent on civil legal aid annually, the clients gain $2.20 and the community gains $7.42.

Despite this incredible return on investment, legal aid programs are forced to turn away more than 50 percent of their eligible applicants for service due to inadequate funding; now these critical programs are at risk of being eliminated completely. It is important, now more than ever, to hold the line on funding for programs that lift people out of dangerous situations and give them the justice constitutionally promised to them as Americans. We want to continue helping seniors like Helen, and the other 1 in 4 Kentuckians who qualify, to get access to justice when they need it most.

Robert Johns is the executive director of AppalReD Legal Aid.

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Posted: February 2, 2018