Legal Aid Initiates Awareness Campaign With Hopes to Serve More Ohioans
For more than 100 years, legal aid societies in Ohio have served low-income families. Now the groups are raising awareness in hopes of increasing donations so that fewer Ohioans in need will be turned away.
The Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation launched its “Voices for Justice” Campaign on October 1 to illustrate the types of legal services the nine Ohio affiliated state and regional organizations provide. The foundation also explained how a decrease in state and federal funding has produced a need for more financial and voluntary time contributions.
“Legal aid is a charity that we should all love. It improves lives and strengthens our communities by ensuring that even our most vulnerable Ohio families can live safely and securely. Legal aid helps to ensure justice for all by giving a legal voice to those who would otherwise go unheard,” said Angela M. Lloyd, the director of the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation.
Ohio’s Legal Aids are funded principally through three sources: the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation, which distributes revenue from interest on lawyer trust accounts (IOLTA), interest on trust accounts (IOTA), and a civil filing fee surcharge; the federal Legal Services Corporation, which distributes funds authorized by Congress; and private donations and grants.
The foundation reported that funding has declined, from $28.4 million from the state and federal programs in 2011 to $26.9 million in 2012, the latest figures available. Meanwhile, eligibility for services, which is determined by federal poverty guidelines, has grown. Nationally, about 21 percent of Americans, nearly 65 million people, qualify for services, which is an increase of more than 30 percent since the 2007 recession began.
Ohio’s numbers are similar. More than 20 percent of Ohioans are eligible. Ohio Legal Aid said because of declining funding, for every case that legal aid accepts, three Ohioans are turned away.
The most frequent types of service from legal aid include:
- Family Law – representing victims of domestic violence in their efforts to obtain protection orders and maintain themselves and their children in their family home. They also help parents obtain and keep custody of their children.
- Housing and Foreclosures – helping to resolve landlord-tenant disputes, preventing foreclosures and helping renters whose landlords have been foreclosed upon.
- Military Families - representing Ohio’s low-income veterans in all the matters that impact their lives from housing to securing financial stability.
- Elder Law - helping Ohio’s seniors as they struggle to maintain their dignity and financial independence.
Ohio’s nine organizations are
- Legal Aid Society of Columbus
- Southeastern Ohio Legal Services
- Advocates for Basic Legal Equality
- Legal Aid of Western Ohio
- Community Legal Aid
- The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland
- The Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati
- Legal Aid of Southwestern Ohio
- Pro Seniors, a statewide organization serving Ohio’s senior citizens
Legal aid also supports groups like the Greater Dayton Volunteer Lawyers Project, a pro bono program created in 1988. Recently, the Dayton area lawyers started a partnership with the Montgomery County Domestic Relations Court to offer monthly free “Pro Se Workshops” for low-income families. Individuals in the program can meet with and get advice from lawyers as they represent themselves in cases in the domestic relations court.
“Filing for divorce can be an overwhelming and emotional experience, particularly without the benefit of legal advice, but we want to ease some of that burden through these workshops,” said Domestic Relations Court Judge Denise L. Cross.
While the federal organization, the Legal Services Corp. is celebrating its 40th year in 2014, some of the 134 legal organizations it funds have operated for more than 100 years. The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland was America’s fifth legal aid society, founded in 1905, and Legal Aid of Greater Cincinnati was the nation’s seventh legal aid society, founded in 1908.
For more information on the Voices of Justice campaign, visit www.ohiolegalaid.org.