The budget finally adopted by North Carolina’s General Assembly entirely eliminates funding for the State’s legal aid agencies ($1.7 million).
Until now, that amount had been generated by taking $1.50 from every court fee and distributing it to Legal Aid of North Carolina, Legal Services of Southern Piedmont and Pisgah Legal Services, which provide legal services to poor people in North Carolina.
The point has been made here that as many as a third of North Carolina citizens qualify for legal aid. Sixty percent of Legal Aid of North Carolina’s clients earn less than $15,000 a year.
Those people, like the rest of us, must have access to the legal system, even if they can’t afford it, where
- They are victims of domestic violence
- They don’t get child support
- They need to create guardianships for their grandchildren
- They get ripped off by scammers of the elderly
- They get fouled up applying for legislated benefits, including veterans benefits
and in a great range of other cases.
This is not a partisan issue.
21st Century society is complex. It cannot move without legal process. Everyone must use the system. And everybody needs access to legal services when they do.
Legal aid helps people get a hearing. It does not engage in politics. It does not pursue social change. And it does not target interest groups.
We all need the legal system to work at a minimal level for everybody who’s involved with it. Otherwise, over time bigger problems will develop.
For the General Assembly to stop a small portion of court fees from going to fund legal aid is bad for everyone, not just poor people.
The legislature made a mistake.