Equal justice under the law is an American ideal that, like so many ideals, is undermined by money. The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) upholds that ideal but needs the resources to do it.
MLAC financially supports 14 legal aid groups across the state. Its reach is extensive, helping residents in Berkshire County and elsewhere without the money or the legal expertise to get through child custody and divorce cases, fight foreclosure or eviction and deal with elderly rights issues, for a few examples.
Because of a funding shortage, MLAC turns away 64 percent of applicants, according to MLAC Executive Director Lonnie Powers, who met with The Eagle in April. Janis Broderick, executive director for the Elizabeth Freeman Center in Pittsfield, described MLAC to The Eagle as "life-saving" in the many ways it assists the center's clients.
MLAC is asking the Legislature to raise its budget from $17 million to $27 million for fiscal 2017, followed by similar increases in the two years following, a request that is backed by the Berkshire legislative delegation. According to MLAC, for every dollar spent on legal aid, $2-$5 is returned to the state in less money spent on emergency housing, health care, and public assistance, among other savings. That so many lawyers work pro bono for MLAC attests to the need for increased funding for an organization that is essentially the legal arm of the state's social service agencies.
The people in crisis served by MLAC desperately need that help and the state is not only obligated to provide it but is financially wise to do so. Beacon Hill should increase funding for MLAC.