September 8, 2005 - Today the U.S. Senate, with active support from Illinois Senators Durbin and Obama, approved an increase in the Legal Services Corporation's funding to $358.5 million, $8 million of which will go to provide assistance to victims of Hurricane Katrina. That represents a $20 million increase over last year's funding, which would likely provide about $600,000 more for Illinois programs. The appropriation will now go to conference committee with the House, which previously approved level funding of $330.8 million.
Following is the text of Senator Obama's Statement in Support of the Harkin Amendment for the Legal Services Corporation:
Mr. President. I rise in strong support of the amendment offered by Senator Harkin to increase funding for the Legal Services Corporation. I am proud to be a cosponsor of the amendment. The Legal Services Corporation provides vital legal assistance to the poor around the country. It was created in 1974 with bipartisan congressional sponsorship and the support of the Nixon administration.
In Chicago, the Legal Services Corporation funds make it possible for the Legal Assistance Foundation to help my constituents navigate the foster care system and receive compensation after violent crimes. In Galesburg and Peoria, these funds make it possible for the Prairie State Legal Services organization to help people dealing with domestic violence issues and elder abuse.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, you can bet that Legal Services Corporation will be in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and the many states where hurricane victims are being relocated helping newly-impoverished citizens obtain food and shelter assistance, health care and insurance benefits, unemployment insurance, Social Security benefits, and FEMA assistance.
This program makes a real difference in people's lives. Take the story of Irene and her family for example, who live in Section 8 housing and needed help. They visited the Prairie State Legal Services office in Illinois. Every day, Irene had to get two wheelchair-bound grandchildren up the stairs and into a second floor apartment. Both her grandchildren have cerebral palsy and are confined to wheelchairs. The oldest is now 14 and weighs 160 lbs. And after 11 years, as I am sure you can imagine, Irene was having a hard time getting her grandchildren up those stairs. But when she tried to make this difficult situation better, it only got worse.
Irene applied for and received a transfer certificate from Section 8 to allow her to move to a new apartment. But she could not find a first-floor apartment to transfer to within the 60 days that the transfer allowed. Irene tried calling the Section 8 offices to let them know of the delay, but she was forced to leave messages. When she finally sent a letter asking for a response to her messages, she was informed that she was too late - not only was the Public Housing Agency terminating her transfer, it was also terminating the Section 8 subsidy for her current apartment.
But that's when Prairie State and Legal Services Corporation intervened. A staff attorney represented Irene in an administrative appeal, and pointed out that, under the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, Irene had not been provided the support needed to assist her in finding an apartment. As a result of her attorney's efforts, Irene's subsidy was reinstated, she was given a new transfer certificate and was provided with active assistance in helping her find a new apartment.
Legal Services Corporation helps folks like Irene all across the country, from South Carolina to South Dakota, Illinois to Iowa. And when someone displaced by Hurricane Katrina cannot afford a lawyer but is having trouble getting her unemployment insurance or social security benefits, or getting her utilities turned back on, Legal Services Corporation will be right there. Legal Services Corporation funded organizations have won dozens of awards, and groups ranging from AARP to the American Bar Association have voiced their strong support of LSC. We should do the same.
Over the last decade, the LSC budget has suffered $196 million in cuts. The Appropriations Committee proposed this year to cut $6 million more. I do not think this is the time to deny legal services to those who need them most. I believe that, in light of the pressing crises confronting individuals in the Gulf Coast, we should be increasing funding for the Legal Services Corporation, not decreasing it. So I strongly support Senator Harkin's amendment, and I urge my colleagues to do the same.
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