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Kansas Bar Association

04/07/2020 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 04/07/2020 07:37

Request for legal aid in Kansas increases and priorities shift during COVID-19

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Posted by: Meg Wickham

Request for legal aid in Kansas increases and priorities shift during COVID-19

The Kansas Bar Foundation (KBF) provides about $100,000 in funding each year to nonprofit organizations in Kansas. The funding source is IOLTA ─ the Interest on Lawyer Trust Account program. This is a voluntary program that allows attorneys to use interest bearing trust accounts that create funding for grants to nonprofits that provide access to justice and law related education to Kansans. According to professional ethics rules, lawyers may not earn the interest generated on these pooled accounts. Instead, the pooled interest supports grants to legal aid organizations. The interest from those accounts is pooled and remitted to the KBF. Over 100 financial institutions partner with the KBF to provide this program.

Recent developments with COVID-19 and the economy have created new priorities and an increase in requests for services.

'Our IOLTA grant recipients meet many critical legal services for underserved Kansans. They provide assistance with court ordered visitation and help victims of domestic violence find shelter and employment as well as many other needs. These populations are already under tremendous stress. Now on top of getting basic needs met, they are faced with navigating the restrictions imposed due to the COVID 19 pandemic, explained Susan Saidian, KBF President. 'How do they coordinate court ordered child exchanges while under a stay at home order? How do we socially distance in an abuse shelter? What happens to my child if I become ill? More than ever, these populations will be looking to Kansas Legal Services and the other grant recipients to answer these questions and provide much needed legal advice in distressing and difficult situations.'

The National Association of IOLTA Programs (NAIP) warns that new funding will be needed to help legal aid organizations respond to spiking demand for legal help due to the pandemic-related economic slowdown. NAIP represents 50 state and jurisdiction-based organizations across the United States that make grants to nonprofits. The aggregate legal aid funding administered by these IOLTA organizations and state funders exceeded $370 million in 2018. But NAIP believes this funding will plummet in the coming months.

'Experts project that IOLTA funding nationwide will drop precipitously because it is dependent on interest rates charged by banks. The Federal reserve has cut its rate to nearly zero which will affect the interest rates attorneys' IOLTA accounts receive,' stated Saidian.

NAIP President David Holtermann explained that recent discussions with member programs revealed widespread and deep concern about the economic outlook. NAIP members project their revenues will drop by as much as 75% over the next year. This will force them to sharply reduce legal aid grants just as the need for legal help from the public peaks.

Holtermann lauded the inclusion of $50 million in additional funding for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) in the $2.2 trillion stimulus bill passed by the United States House and Senate and signed into law by President Trump last week. The additional funds will help the 132 local legal aid organizations supported by LSC to address the legal needs of low-income clients related to the pandemic. Nonetheless, this influx will fall short of what is needed to fully address the legal needs of low-income and working Americans in the coming months. LSC represents only a portion of legal aid funding in the United States, and in most states, IOLTA and related funds support a significant number of legal aid providers, pro bono programs, legal helplines, and online resources that do not receive any LSC funding. Collectively, the IOLTA and state-based funds administered by NAIP member programs are the second largest source of legal aid funding nationwide.

'To ensure an equitable and adequate response, additional resources for LSC programs and non-LSC programs will be essential. NAIP and our member organizations look forward to working with policymakers at all levels of government to help identify and meet the needs,' Holtermann said.

Anne Woods

Director of Public Services/IOLTA Director

Kansas Bar Association/Kansas Bar Foundation

Email: [email protected]

Direct: (785) 861-8838

Main: (785) 234-5696

About the Kansas Bar Foundation

For over 60 years, the Kansas Bar Foundation has funded opportunities for the citizens of Kansas for charitable and educational projects that foster the welfare, honor and integrity of the legal system by improving its accessibility, equality and uniformity, and by enhancing the public opinion of the role of lawyers in our society. Since 1984, with funding from Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts, the Foundation has awarded more than $4 million in grants to provide legal services to those who cannot afford them and for law related educational programs. www.ksbar.org/kbf

Anne Woods
Director of Public Services/IOLTA Director
Kansas Bar Association/Kansas Bar Foundation
Email:
[email protected]
Direct: (785) 861-8838
Main: (785) 234-5696

About the Kansas Bar FoundationFor over 60 years, the Kansas Bar Foundation has funded opportunities for the citizens of Kansas for charitable and educational projects that foster the welfare, honor and integrity of the legal system by improving its accessibility, equality and uniformity, and by enhancing the public opinion of the role of lawyers in our society. Since 1984, with funding from Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts, the Foundation has awarded more than $4 million in grants to provide legal services to those who cannot afford them and for law related educational programs. www.ksbar.org/kbf