The Difference One Day Makes
One Wednesday in April . . .
- A six-year-old little girl woke up not knowing where she was going to live. Her mom was a victim of homicide and she never knew her dad.
- A woman started her day knowing that she had to leave her marriage or the next time her husband's violence could end in her death.
- A family of five received notice that they were losing their home to foreclosure.
These three stories are those of our family, friends, neighbors and coworkers. They are stories among the 486 others that, last Wednesday, began their day in crisis and sought help from one of Arizona's legal aid agencies: Community Legal Services, DNA People's Legal Services and Southern Arizona Legal Aid.
In honor of Governor Jan Brewer's proclamation declaring April "Access to Justice Month," Arizona's three legal aid agencies organized a "What a Difference a Day Makes" campaign to bring attention to the importance of and need for access to legal resources and assistance. For 24 hours, Community Legal Services, DNA People's Legal Services and Southern Arizona Legal Aid tracked the activity related to individuals seeking assistance for crisis that only legal expertise can resolve. Last Wednesday, Arizona's legal aid organizations made a difference:
- In the lives of 434 individuals and families that had their legal questions answered
- With the assistance of 47 volunteer attorneys donating their time and expertise free of charge
- With 13 legal clinics offered.
Despite this tremendous impact the legal aid agencies and volunteers have on those that receive assistance, there are many turned away due to a lack of resources. Estimates, using census data of 1.4 million Arizona households living in poverty, indicate that 50% to 75% of the actual need for legal assistance is being met. Like the communities they serve, legal aid organizations have struggled through Arizona's economic crisis and severe reductions in funding. Just last week, the federal budget dealt Arizona's legal aid agencies another financial blow - a $500,000 cut in funding for the current fiscal year. With furloughs, layoffs and office closures already factored into the tight budgets of the legal aid agencies, there is no more trimming that can be done. The reality of this most recent reduction is an increased number of children, domestic violence victims and elderly persons will go without help unless there is additional funding found.
Increased financial support is needed to bridge the gap for crisis in funding created by the loss of federal funds. The Legal Service Corporation (LSC) grant reduced the funding that Arizona legal aid agencies expect to receive in fiscal year 2011 (10/01/10 to 9/30/2011) by nearly ½ million dollars. In addition to this blow, the 2010 census reports that with the population poverty increase over the last several years, the people now eligible for legal aid services has increased by almost 8% - over 480,000 more people. The 2010 census, though, will not be used to allocate LSC funding until the 2013 fiscal year. This leaves an 18-month gap in funding that needs to be bridged.
Over the years, support of the legal aid agencies and the generosity of volunteer attorneys have been pivotal in Arizona assuring equal access to justice. With the long history of support, it is a worthy goal for the legal community to dig a little deeper into their pockets and offer a little more of their time over this next year and a half. The Arizona legal community has been generous and committed to promoting access to justice, but now is the time we all have to do more. Donating has been made easy, by just logging onto https://www.azflse.org/azflse/get_involved/donatenow.cfm
Community Legal Services, DNA People's Legal Services and Southern Arizona Legal Aid provided legal assistance on 18,537 new cases.
3,626 individuals were assisted in legal aid sponsored clinics and workshops.
Legal assistance was provided to Arizonans in each of the state's 15 counties and Arizona's 21 Native American tribes. Community Legal Services, DNA People's Legal Services and Southern Arizona Legal Aid provide legal assistance on various areas of law, including: family law with an emphasis on eliminative domestic violence, consumer, wmployment, housing and mortgage foreclosure, individual rights, health/medical- related, and public benefit (access to government benefits such as unemployment insurance and social security disability benefits).