Senator Wieckowski leads call for increasing legal aid funding to provide low-income Californians access to courts

New York provides more than five times as much funding as California

March 10, 2016

Sacramento – Joined by legal aid advocates representing non-profits across California, State Senator Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) urged members of a Senate budget subcommittee today to push for an increased investment in the state’s Equal Access Fund, a fund used to provide legal services to some of California’s neediest residents.  Wieckowski continues to lead a bipartisan effort to increase funding for legal aid in California, which tops the nation in the number of people living in poverty.

“While the demand for legal services has grown, our state is falling further behind in providing the funding necessary to give low-income Californians access to our judicial system,” said Wieckowski, a member of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee.  “We used to rank in the Top Ten for funding and now we are 22nd in the nation.  We are funding the Equal Access Fund at the same level we did in 1999.  To put it in perspective, New York, with a far smaller population, spends $85 million, while California invests only $16 million in legal aid. This has a direct adverse effect on a low-income family’s ability to avoid homelessness, escape domestic violence or resolve other problems that threaten the health and safety of their family and their children.”   

Deep budget cuts caused by the national recession, resulted in 37 courts with reduced self-help/family law facility services, 205 courtrooms closed and 51 courthouses closed between 2010 and 2014.  While California has begun reinvesting in the judiciary since the recovery began, the Equal Access Fund remains at the same level it was 17 years ago despite saving the state $6 for every $1 invested by preventing financial fraud, domestic violence, elder abuse and homelessness.   

About 100 legal aid non-profits receive support from the Equal Access Fund to provide assistance to low-income Californians.  But a 2013 report concluded there are still nearly 10,000 legal aid eligible Californians for every legal aid attorney.

Senator Wieckowski represents the 10th Senate District, which includes southern Alameda County and northeast Santa Clara County.