The economic downturn has had a devastating impact on communities living in poverty in the District. One in six District residents—over 110,000 people—now have incomes below the poverty line, which is just under $25,100 for a family of four. 32,000 of these needy District residents are children. And due to ongoing revenue challenges, the District’s safety net falls far short of meeting the need for services. National data has found that low- and moderate-income individuals are likely to need civil legal services. Over 70% of low-income Americans households experienced at least one civil legal problem in critical areas like domestic violence, housing and family issues. 86% of the civil legal problems reported by low-income Americans received inadequate or no legal help.
For families reeling from the impact of the recession, access to the civil justice system can mean the difference between stability and crisis. Legal services lawyers protect individuals from wrongful foreclosures and evictions, help domestic violence victims and their children escape violent homes, protect low-wage workers from exploitative employment practices, ensure that children have access to health care, and help indigent families access essential food and income security programs. Unfortunately, economic conditions have significantly undermined the capacity of the legal services network to meet the vital legal needs of indigent residents, just as the need for those services has soared.
Each year, the Commission works intensively to infuse public and private resources into the fragile legal services network. This includes leading the effort to secure and preserve an annual public appropriation from the D.C. Council to support civil legal services (the Access to Justice Program) and increasing private giving through the Raising the Bar in D.C. Campaign.