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Funding Declines For D.C.'s Legal Services Providers

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By Rebecca Sheir

A new report shows legal aid programs in D.C. have lost $4.5 million worth of funding due to the recession. The funding drop comes as demand for these services is on the rise.

Vanesia Monroe is a single mother in Northwest D.C. When the bank foreclosed on her apartment building, she sought help from the Legal Aid Society, a non-profit in the district. "There was no way I would have been able to handle this if Legal Aid had not come in," says Monroe.

The Legal Aid Society, and other organizations like it, receive money from foundations, law firms, individuals and the district. But Peter Edelman, whose D.C. Access to Justice Commission co-authored the new report, says giving is down 25 percent.

"If you're poor, you have a lot of legal problems and you don't have the money to pay for a lawyer," says Edelman. "And we've lost one out of eight of the lawyers that we had, and almost one out of three of the support people."

That worries Monroe. She says she knows plenty of people who could benefit from legal aid to receive public benefits, escape domestic violence or, like her, avoid eviction. "A service like this, especially now, is needed because families are gonna be homeless because they don't have any recourse," says Monroe.

The report suggests approximately 2,000 fewer clients will receive legal aid in D.C. if funding doesn't bounce back.

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