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How Economic Impact Data
Can Help Make the Case
For More Legal Aid Funding

As competition for funding heats up, state equal justice commissions and legal aid grant writers increasingly are looking at legal aid's economic impact to bolster the case for increased support for legal aid.

The Resource has prepared economic analyses recently for legal aid leaders in Pennsylvania, Missouri, and New York, and has contributed key data for studies underway in additional states. (See the links at bottom for samples.)

The goal of our work in this realm has been to maximize the odds that legal aid will survive, and even thrive, through the intense battles currently raging across the country over how to resolve monumental state-and local budget deficits.

Our clients report that this economic impact information is being received very positively in public hearings and private discussions with state and local officials over the choices they must make about what to keep and what to cut.

There is no question that legal aid helps families, saves public dollars, and boosts local and state economies. Making public officials aware of the scope and dollar impact of these outcomes is a huge opportunity that legal aid leaders are turning to with greater frequency and impact.

Some economic benefits are direct and easy for legislators to grasp. For example, we found that between 2004 and 2008 legal aid advocates in Pennsylvania - funded by the state filing-fee program - who successfully challenged denials of federal benefits decisions, secured a total of $37 million that low-income families were able to use to pay their rent, buy groceries, and get to work each day.

Other economic results are equally significant but less well known to legislators. The I-CAN! Income Tax module, for example, developed by Legal Aid Society of Orange County ( California) is now being applied by legal aid providers across the country to secure Earned-Income Tax Credits for low-income workers who otherwise might not receive this benefit. Since The Resource first evaluated this project in 2003, it has expanded into a national collaboration by legal aid providers, producing to date more than $130 million for low-income families.

Still other economic benefits are hidden within broader "bundles" of outcomes that legal aid advocates achieve for their clients. For example, the first step in a domestic violence case is to secure a legal protective order making the victims safe from the abuser. An immediate next step is to address economic concerns such as child support and access to financial assets the client might share with the abuser. Success in these efforts generates quantifiable dollars for low-income families and reduces the burden on taxpayers of providing long-term financial support.

Additional economic benefits are realized by the larger community; for example, the cost of providing emergency medical treatment for domestic violence victims is reduced by the success of legal aid advocates in breaking the cycle of violence experienced by their clients. In Pennsylvania, we estimated the total economic savings produced by legal aid DV work funded by the state filing-fee program at $23 million between 2004 and 2008.

Similarly, the work of legal aid housing advocates is primarily focused on avoiding the enormously destructive social and economic consequences of homelessness on their clients and their families. Yet a part of this story that some public budget-deciders find especially compelling is the broader impact on the community as a whole, and in particular, the reduction in the burden on taxpayers of providing emergency housing to families who have been evicted or foreclosed. In just one county in New York, for example, we estimated these savings at $6.1 million in 2009, vastly more than the cost of the legal services that generated these savings.

Legislators and local officials are often surprised to learn that legal aid programs are bringing millions of dollars into their districts that otherwise would be lost. In a study for the four legal services providers in Missouri, for example, we estimated that in 2008 legal aid providers had a total economic stimulus effect of $25 million by bringing federal dollars into communities across the state that the people eligible for those benefits previously had been denied.

Boosting local economies, saving tax dollars, and helping families economically are outcomes of legal aid work that few public officials can afford ignore in today's budget discussions, regardless of their position on the political spectrum. Legal aid leaders are successfully using economic arguments to make the case that legal aid makes good sense from a whole range of perspectives - including the political insight that supporting legal aid on the basis of its cost effectiveness is a safe and wise position for a public official to take.

For samples of our work in assessing the economic impacts of legal aid, please click on the following links:

About The Resource for Great Programs

Now in our 26th year, The Resource for Great Programs is a consulting firm based in Michigan that assists civil legal aid programs and their funders across the nation.

Our services concentrate on points of leverage in our client organizations where small-dollar investments can deliver big gains in impact.

Our president Ken Smith, our IOLTA Project Manager Kelly Thayer, our Information Services Project Manager Kathy Garwold and the remainder of our staff are experts in data analysis, policy and demographic research, program evaluation, and leadership disciplines, supported by our main office in Traverse City, Michigan. In addition, we can extend our reach as needed via a growing network of other firms and consultants with whom we collaborate as opportunities arise for producing extraordinary outcomes for our clients.


The Resource's Staff, led by Ken Smith & Kathy Garwold, would be pleased to answer your questions and help your program increase revenues. Contact us today!

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