Indiana Legal Services, a civil legal aid agency for low-income Hoosiers, will receive $9.24 million in federal money for 2023 — a 15% increase over its 2022 appropriation that will help the nonprofit address pandemic-induced problems like escalating demand and staffing shortages.
The money is coming from the $560 million provided to Legal Services Corporation as part of the 2023 Omnibus Appropriations bill signed by President Joe Biden on Dec. 29, 2022. This represents a record-setting 14.5% boost in funding, LSC’s largest percentage increase since 1979.
LSC divides the federal funding among 132 different legal aid organizations across the country. The legal service providers are appropriated a basic field grant based on the poverty rate in their state.
Indiana had an estimated 12.2% of its population living in poverty, according the 2021 estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Last year, Indiana Legal Services received a basic field grant of $8.03 million, down from the $8.12 million received in 2021.
“We will put that money to use that was intended, which is to provide additional legal assistance to low-income people that we would not otherwise reach,” Jon Laramore, ILS executive director, said of the 2023 boost in funding.
Specifically, Laramore said the extra dollars will go towards expanding services by adding staff. The statewide nonprofit has been struggling to fill attorney positions like other legal aid agencies in Indiana.
ILS has about 95 attorneys spread across nine offices with at least five attorney positions vacant, according to Laramore.
To attract and retain “the best folks,” Laramore said the agency has raised salaries to be competitive with other employers. Also, ILS is looking to bolster its internal infrastructure by possibly doing such things as adding some human resources capabilities to process applications and schedule interviews more quickly.
Meanwhile, the need for legal help among the indigent has not been slowing down.
“We continue to have the same level of demand as we’ve had through the pandemic,” Laramore said, explaining the legal consequences are lagging the actual progress of the pandemic. “We’re still seeing pandemic-related evictions. There continue to be family law cases with domestic violence that can be linked to the pandemic.”
Also, Laramore noted demand is being driven by more people learning about ILS and the help it offers.
“We’ve become better known during the pandemic,” Laramore said. “… And some of those folks who didn’t know about us before are reaching out to us now.”
Dollars and cents
Along with the basic field grant, LSC grantees are allowed to carry over any unspent grant money from the prior year and tap into any other streams of funding. The recently released 2021 By the Numbers report provides data on the funding and kinds of services provided by its legal aid grantees.
Indiana Legal Services carried over $1.68 million and received $4.49 million in non-LSC funding in 2021 which contributed to a total pot of $14.46 million. The numbers are still being tabulated for 2022 but the nonprofit is projecting it received $5.1 million in non-LSC revenue.
The 2023 increase in funding ILS is receiving comes as Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush is again asking the Legislature for more money for legal aid providers. Rush has requested the state double its annual appropriation to the Indiana Civil Legal Aid Fund to $3 million in the 2023-2024 state budget.
ILS received $682,336.36 from the state fund for fiscal year 2020, the most recent data available. Although the nonprofit’s appropriation has decreased from the $730,632.82 it received in fiscal year 2017, Laramore said the state money remains “very important.”
“That’s really, really helpful funding because like the LSC money, it is what we call unrestricted. We can use it for any purpose for eligible clients,” Laramore said, speculating the appropriation to ILS might double if the Legislature honors Rush’s request.
LSC grantees closed more than 713,000 cases in 2021, according to the By the Numbers report. The total represents an 8.2% increase over the 659,164 cases closed in 2020 but lower than the 745,788 and 743,113 closed in 2019 and 2018, respectively.
Notably, unlike previous years, the number of housing cases LSC grantees closed in 2021 exceeded the family law cases. In 2021, LSC reported 252,436 housing cases closed compared to 208,479 family law cases.
ILS reported 14,758 cases closed 2021, a 29 % increase over 2020. However, while housing cases rose 56% to 2,984, family law still trumped at 4,563 cases closed. The nonprofit’s biggest change was the 2,432 eviction cases closed, 74% increase from the previous year.
“We have no reason to think that the demand for our help in housing cases will decrease in 2023,” Laramore said, noting his agency is continuing to run clinics at courthouses around the state, offering help to tenants facing evictions. “We’re not seeing evidence that there will be a drop.”