Due to core federal funding being substantially cut to LAWV in recent weeks, the federally designated provider of civil legal services for low-income people is expecting to cut the West Virginia program by a total of $1.2 million by 2013.
“Most of our costs are spent on our people, our case handlers. With less money, we have less people and regretfully are able to provide fewer services to the West Virginians who need it most,” said Adrienne Worthy, Legal Aid of West Virginia executive director.
In response to the cuts in federal funds, LAWV is closing the office located in Logan and eliminating the positions of 15 case handlers, including attorneys and some paralegals.
“The Legal Aid Board of Directors took very, very seriously the need to balance providing services to West Virginians and the immediate need to decrease costs so as to preserve and protect on-going services of the organization,” said Andy Nason, LAWV Board president. “The decision to reduce staff and close an office was made only after an extensive and painful planning process.”
For residents of the southern coalfields of West Virginia, specifically Mingo and Logan Counties, the services of Legal Aid will be sorely missed. In the past five years more than 5,000 people have been helped through services provided by the Logan office. And nearly $1 million has gone directly into the pockets of Logan and Mingo residents through the Social Security work of the Logan office.
“While we will strive to continue serving Logan and Mingo Counties from our Charleston office, it will be at a drastically decreased level” said Worthy, “the loss of the Logan Office will have a huge impact on the overall community.”
For other offices across the state, spanning Wheeling to Lewisburg and Huntington to Martinsburg, the elimination of case handling positions means an extreme reduced capacity to serve low-income West Virginians that is far-reaching. In 2010, LAWV served nearly 24,000 people across the state.
Without LAWV, access to justice for some of West Virginia’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens will be denied.
“Although assisting thousands of people a year sounds impressive, the truth is the demand for legal help far exceeds those we can serve,” Worthy said. “It is so difficult cutting services that is proven to make a life-changing impact on someone seeking safety or self-sufficiency.”
Who are some of the people served by Legal Aid of West Virginia? Veterans, who have served their country proudly, but have been denied the benefits to which they are entitled; Domestic Violence Victims, who are desperate to stay safe through the conditions of a domestic violence protective order; Families, struggling to make ends meet, who have been denied a benefit to which they are lawfully entitled such as Social Security Income and unemployment, disability and veterans benefits.
Legal services programs in West Virginia’s neighboring states enjoy significant support with state funding as a percentage of population at the following amounts: Maryland, $2.51; Kentucky, $1.78; Ohio, $1.40; Virginia, $1.21; and Pennsylvania, $1.19. State dollars of support pale in comparison in West Virginia, at $0.58.
“In addition to a private fundraising campaign, our supporters are asking the Governor and the Legislature to make a commitment of state dollars to augment the gaping hole left by the funding cuts,” said Worthy. “We know that access to justice for low-income West Virginians is important to our state leaders too.”