Civil legal service providers form a vital part of the web of programs that help protect at-risk New Yorkers and their families. Federal and state funds support the provision of legal services to indigent persons affected by foreclosure, eviction, domestic violence, unemployment, disability and other matters that directly impact family stability and quality of life.
Severe economic conditions swell demand for these critical services while reducing funds available to support them. The New York Interest on Lawyer Account ("IOLA") Fund created in 1983 to expand funding for these vital programs, dramatically lost revenue in 2009 due to economic contraction and historically low interest rates. With only $6.5 million to distribute in 2010, compared to $31 million in 2008, IOLA cannot meet soaring demand for civil legal services at the very time that at-risk New Yorkers most need them. Absent reforms, the storm of foreclosures, evictions, unemployment and other challenges affecting families statewide will have even more severe impacts.
For these reasons, the Senate is taking a fresh look at New York's civil legal services system, with the goal of ensuring that it remains equal to its responsibilities to at-risk New Yorkers and the cause of equal justice under law.