House GOP Budget Axe May Fall Heavily On Low-Income Women
The Republican Study Committee is out with a plan to cut spending today, to the tune of $2.5 trillion. As Brian Beutler and Megan Carpentier point out, it's mostly the whisper of a promise to cross fingers and hope for the best as the can skitters down the road:
Like most major spending cut proposals, this one's not entirely rigorous. It relies principally on an aspirational spending cap -- specifically, limiting non-defense appropriations totals to their 2006 levels without adjusting for inflation. In other words, it punts the question of what to cut to future Congresses, which could just as easily bust the cap.
That said, one item that's ripe for the knife is especially troubling, in that it will really make life difficult for low-income women:
Also on the RSC's chopping block: the Legal Services Corporation, which is the federal organization that provides civil legal assistance to people who make up to 125 percent of the federal poverty line. The RSC says that eliminating the LSC would save $420 million -- and the predominately low-income women currently served by the program would have to look elsewhere for assistance filing for help in domestic abuse cases and resolving custody issues (about 35 percent of its cases), in foreclosure or eviction disputes (25 percent of their cases) or even filing for bankruptcy.
The LSC is the "single largest provider of civil legal aid for the poor in the nation," and the need for such an organization is great. In 2005, under the direction of then-President Helaine Barnett, the LSC undertook a study of the economic "justice gap" in America. Their principal findings:
--For every client served by an LSC-funded program, at least one person who sought help was turned down because of insufficient resources.
--Only a very small percentage of the legal problems experienced by low-income people (one in five or less) are addressed with the assistance of either a private attorney (pro bono or paid) or a legal aid lawyer.
--Despite the changes in legal aid delivery over the last decade, a majority of legal aid lawyers still work in LSC-funded programs. The per capita ratio of legal aid attorneys funded by all sources to the low-income population is a tiny fraction of the ratio of private attorneys providing personal civil legal services to the general population.
These needs were set to be addressed, at least in part, through a $50 million increase to its operating budget. But in July of 2009, the LSC ran afoul of Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who -- citing "multiple GAO and Inspector General reports" -- found several examples of waste that he wanted investigated. At the time, Grassley said, "There should be not one dollar wasted upon some fancy stone project if it could be responding to the legal needs of low-income people." So now, the problem will be solved by not spending any money responding to the legal needs of low-income people at all!
According to the LSC, "Nearly three out of four clients are women -- many of whom are struggling to keep their children safe and their families together." So, it's going to get pretty hard out there for you Mama Grizzlies, I guess!