Indigent residents of states across the U.S. are facing a loss of the legal assistance they need as a result of funding shortfalls at both the state and federal level. While constitutional guarantees of access to criminal defense representation for criminal defendants remains an important bulwark of protection for criminal suspects accused of committing a crime, those in other situations who may require legal assistance but who cannot afford an attorney on their own are now facing the possibility that they will not be able to obtain representation.
In Texas, for instance, where nearly six million of the state’s residents have incomes which would qualify them for legal aid in normal circumstances, some individuals have been turned away because of shortfalls in the state’s fund for legal aid. According to some estimates, the state only has enough resources to provide legal assistance to 100,000 individuals in the year.
The problem is part of a national trend, with states struggling to balance their budgets being forced to make tough spending decisions and, in many cases, having to reduce funding for legal aid services. On the national level, the Legal Services Corporation, the federal organization which provides much of the funding for legal aid agencies across the country, has seen its own budget reduced by Congress. As a result, the availability of lawyers for indigent citizens has been dramatically reduced in scope.