Fifty years ago in January, President Lyndon B. Johnson called for an “unconditional war on poverty.” A year later MLSA began providing legal services to low-income Montanans and joined that fight.
How does MLSA fight poverty, you may wonder? The answer is that MLSA services result in positive economic benefits not only for clients but also for all Montanans.
According to recent studies*, the positive economic benefits of civil legal aid include:
- Substantial economic benefits to the public through prevention of expensive events such as domestic violence, eviction, health emergencies, and access to/maintenance of public benefits that prevent financial emergencies,
- Income for low-income people to pay for daily necessities such as food, housing, utilities and transportation, which reduces the welfare burden on state and local governments,
- Dollars saved for debt-strapped families that in many cases prevent worse problems like eviction, foreclosure and homelessness that would impose much greater economic costs on society,
- A permanent economic stimulus resulting from federal dollars achieved through legal aid advocates’ successful representation in matters such as SSD, SSI, Earned-Income Tax Credits (EITC) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance; the dollars circulate through local economies, providing income for businesses and jobs for working people,
- Increased tax revenues for state and local jurisdictions in the form of taxes paid by the occupants of the jobs supported by the economic stimulus,
- Cost savings for taxpayers from legal aid’s success in addressing community-wide problems such as homelessness and domestic violence,
- Efficiencies in the courts made possible by legal aid’s representation of clients and assistance to self-represented litigants, and
- Economic benefits for health care providers, including Medicaid reimbursements for providing emergency care to uninsured low-income people that the providers would otherwise have to write off.
*Economic Benefits of Civil Legal Aid, prepared by Laura K. Abel, National Center for Access to Justice at Cardozo Law School
*Economic Impacts of Legal Aid: Civil Justice for Low-Income People Creates Ripple Effects (MIE Journal Fall 2011).