Wieckowski applauds increased legal aid funding to provide low-income Californians access to courts

June 10, 2016

Sacramento – State Senator Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont), a leading advocate for increasing legal aid funding in California, today applauded the Legislative Budget Conference Committee’s decision to make a one-time $5 million funding boost to the state’s Equal Access Fund, a fund used to provide legal services to some of the state’s neediest residents. 

“While this increased investment to the Equal Access Fund is small, it is a step in the right direction and will provide some of our most vulnerable residents a better opportunity to resolve their legal disputes,” said Wieckowski, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  “This is the first increase since 1999 and it will enable more people who cannot afford a lawyer to receive the legal advocacy they need.  I will continue to advocate for more investments in the future to help low-income families use our courts to avoid homelessness, escape domestic violence or resolve other problems threatening their health and safety.”

Wieckowski has led bipartisan efforts to increase funding for legal aid in California, which tops the nation in the number of people living in poverty.  In March, joined by legal aid non-profit representatives from across California, he testified in front of a budget subcommittee to urge an increase in funding. 

“The California legal aid community is extremely grateful to Senator Wieckowski for his long-term commitment to increasing legal aid funding,” said Salena Copeland, executive director of the Legal Aid Association of California.  “We are so honored that he is a strong voice for low-income Californians.  His letters urging an increase in state support for legal aid have clearly made a difference.  We saw strong support grow over the last several months.  This funding increase will make a difference in thousands of people’s lives.  More attorneys will be available to assist victims of domestic violence seeking temporary restraining orders, more attorneys will be available to help students navigate the special education system, and more attorneys will be available to help low-income seniors stay in their homes.”

Copeland said much more still needs to be done to avoid having people who qualify for free legal assistance turned away due to lack of funding.

California used to rank in the Top Ten for funding, but has fallen to 22nd in the nation.  In the meantime, the demand for legal services has grown.  A 2013 report found that there are 10,000 legal aid eligible Californians for every legal aid attorney in the state.

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. 

About 100 legal aid non-profits receive support from the Equal Access Fund to provide assistance to low-income Californians.  The Equal Access Fund saves the state $6 for every $1 that’s invested, by preventing financial fraud, domestic violence, elder abuse and homelessness.

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