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LSC gets slight funding boost -- with strings attached.

When the budget dust finally settled, the Legal Services Corporation was funded at $305 million for 1999-2000 -- $5 million more than LSC received last year for legal aid programs

The additional funds are earmarked to provide technology grants to LSC programs to make basic information and court forms accessible to prose litigants.

On November 29 the President signed into law H.R 3194, the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 1999, which included former H.R. 2670, the vetoed Commerce, Justice, State appropriations bill renegotiated and renumbered as H.R. 3421. The measure also includes a .38 percent across-the-board spending cut in all domestic discretionary programs.

"Since this cut would affect LSC, LSC's net funding for FY 2000 will total approximately $303.9 million," said Julie M. Strandlie, of the ABA's Governmental Affairs Office.

Kent Spuhler, executive director of Florida Legal Services, said the appropration means Florida's seven LSC offices will receive slightly more than $13 million this year, only about $8,000 less than last year. But each program at some point will get to apply for some of the special grants for technology enhancements and pro se programs, he said.

That troubles Spuhler, he said, because it follows a trend in which Washington is deciding how LSC money should be spent rather than leaving it to local programs to set their priorities.

"Now they have said you will do technology and pro se with the additional money, whether you want it or not," Spuhler said. "I think that is a bad trend."

Spuhler said while Congress is making local decision-making a priority for everything from welfare to food subsidies, the reverse is true for LSC spending.

"They get more regulation, more direction, and less ability for the local communities to decide what is important," Sphuler said.

In October Congress passed the Commerce, Justice, State appropriations bill, funding LSC at $300 million for FY 2000, the same amount received last year. The President vetoed the bill, citing several problems including insufficient funding for law enforcement programs and effectively no funding to pay the UN dues arrears. In his veto message, Clinton also requested full funding for LSC at $340 million.

In final negotiations on the omnibus bill, however, the President requested an additional $10 million for the program, and Republican appropriators agreed to an additional $5 million. Subsequent action to reduce all domestic discretionary spending by .38 percent brought the $305 million figure down to $303.9 million.

Strandlie said based on the $305 million figure, the conference report accompanying the bill will provide $289 million for grants to basic field programs and independent audits; $8.9 million for management and administration; and $2.1 million for the Office of the Inspector General.

Conferees also said they have concerns about the case service reporting and associated data reports submitted annually by the corporation's grantees and the case statistical reports submitted by LSC to Congress. The conferees directed LSC to make improvements of the accuracy of those submissions a top priority. The conferees directed the LSC to submit its 1999 annual case service reports and associated data reports to Congress no later than April 30. The Office of the Inspector General will assess the case service information provided by the grantees, and will make its report to Congress by July 30.

The conferees said LSC should differentiate between the number of cases disposed of by activities such as telephone referrals to private attorneys and those disposed of by settlement or adjudication.

That will be a drain on LSC program resources, Spuhler said, because it creates new administrative duties that Congress has not granted appropriations for.

"This program has been very efficient in keeping administrative costs down and getting lawyers connected with people to do the job," Spuhler said. "Now they want to create an administratively top-heavy organization."
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Publication:Florida Bar News
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U5FL
Date:Jan 1, 2000
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