Fund IOLA, or else… no food, no shelter, no jobs, no healthcare
No food, no shelter, no jobs, no healthcare.
This is what the people of NYC have been struggling with for what seems like forever. From a lack of supermarkets in our poor and working class neighborhoods, unavailability of affordable housing, high unemployment, to a loss of benefits and beyond, the non-wealthy of New York City are taking an exceptionally severe hit from this recession. The thing is, even when the economy was at its peak, lower income New Yorkers were already facing obstacles to obtaining these basic necessities. Going at it alone in this city is damn near impossible. To protect themselves from slumlords, tenants sought the assistance of civil service attorneys to represent them in holdover proceedings. When facing foreclosure, or extended unemployment, disability discrimination, New Yorkers can turn to agencies such as The Legal Aid Society of NY and Legal Services NYC for assistance.
Civil service attorneys who fight for fair housing practices, who seek to rectify discrimination in employment, who secure benefits for those in need, are facing DEEP cuts and lay offs are coming. Criminal defendants are guaranteed attorneys by the U.S. Constitution and the State Constitutions of the states. This means that funding for public defender offices, although deficient cannot be completely divested. Nevertheless, all nonprofits are struggling with funding. If City Government agencies are being required to cut their budgets by 12%, imagine what financial state the private nonprofits are in. Public Defender agencies are suffering from deep cuts, however Civil Services agencies will soon have to abandon entire divisions of practice. Persons in need of representation in Civil matters on the other hand, are not entitled to a free attorney. Nonprofit agencies such as the LAS, LSNY and others rely partially on fundraising from private entities, but primarily through IOLA funds. IOLA collects interest from accounts held by lawyers holding large amounts of funds for their clients. The interest collected on these accounts is then placed in IOLA for civil legal services spending for THE ENTIRE STATE OF NEW YORK. Fundraising and asking private firms to donate money is not sufficient. IOLA funds encompass the bulk of many agencies’ funding. Millions of the money that funds civil legal servicescomes from the IOLA fund, yet IOLA is broke. The loss of this money will be crippling to the the various divisions that represent the working class of this city. People who receive benefits, who have found housing through their free attorney, have been showing up Senate hearings demanding to be heard. This must continue!
SO WHAT CAN WE DO?
The New York State Senate is holding a hearing on December 9th about civil legal services funding. The hearing will be 11:00 am to 6pm at New York University Law School, Vanderbilt Hall, Greenberg Lounge, 40 Washington Square South. There must be a major turn out to demand that our politicians ensure that the IOLA fund for civil legal services is funded and protected.