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Ferguson prioritizes access to justice programs in 2012 King County Budget


Council includes increased funding for legal aid services


The Metropolitan King County Council adopted the 2012 King County Budget yesterday that includes critical funding for legal aid services for veterans, families, the unemployed, and others in need. Councilmember Bob Ferguson, working in collaboration with the Council’s Budget Leadership Team, led the effort to secure funding for these critical services.

“Ensuring the integrity of our justice system was one of my top priorities during this year’s budget deliberations, which includes equitable access to legal assistance,” said Councilmember Bob Ferguson, Chair of the Council’s Law, Justice, Health and Human Services Committee. “When families fall on hard times and find themselves dealing with legal problems, they need resources they can turn to for help. These are the programs seniors rely on to reinstate wrongfully terminated benefits and that protect survivors of domestic violence.”

Legal assistance programs are often the only resource available to help low-income individuals and families who cannot otherwise afford legal representation. Collectively, legal assistance programs help people secure unemployment benefits, protect families facing eviction or foreclosure, secure protection to domestic violence survivors, including children, and provide other support to vulnerable individuals. Without meaningful access to the justice system, these individuals have no way to defend their legal rights.

“The current economic crisis has resulted in increased need for legal help. More people have fallen into poverty, there are fewer public dollars to go around, and the public safety net is fraying,” said Eric Gonzalez, Director of the Equal Justice Coalition. “The support of Councilmember Ferguson and the entire Council is critical to ensure our programs can continue and help bridge the justice gap.”

Legal aid providers are seeing growing demand for services because of the tough economy. Since 2008, King County requests for legal assistance with foreclosure, unemployment, bankruptcy, and domestic violence have increased dramatically. Legal aid is one of the top most requested services at King County’s 2-1-1 referral program.

“The economic and job crisis means more people are seeking help with unemployment assistance, including an increasing number of veterans and victims of domestic violence. Helping unemployed individuals get the benefits to which they are entitled also benefits the economy and community of King County,” said Marc Lampson, Unemployment Law Project Executive Director. “We appreciate the support of Councilmember Ferguson and the Council because securing unemployment benefits can often mean the difference between being housed and being homeless, and between being fed and being hungry.”

As approved by the Council on November 9, the 2012 King County budget includes over $300,000 for civil legal aid, including:

• $20,000 for the Unemployment Law Project, which provides legal help to people seeking unemployment benefits;
• $12,750 for Solid Ground’s Family Assistance program, which helps reinstate benefits for individuals that have been wrongfully denied;
• $10,000 for the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, which provides immigration legal services to survivors of domestic violence in King County;
• $199,900 for TeamChild, which works to ensure that youth have critical support in the community, like school, treatment, and housing; and
• $60,000 for the Eastside Legal Assistance Program, which provides critical assistance for low-income survivors of domestic violence.

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