Civil Legal Assistance Saves Money and Helps People Escape Poverty
Lonnie Powers, executive director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC), writes an exceptional article on the impact that civil legal aid has for the poor and the asset these services provide for the War on Poverty.
Sargent Shriver, President Johnson’s personal choice to lead the War on Poverty, was once asked which anti-poverty program he considered the most important.
“My favorite is Head Start because it was my idea,” he answered. “But I am proudest of Legal Services because I recognized that it had the greatest potential for changing the system under which people’s lives were being exploited.”
Legal services, also known as civil legal aid, has indeed been a potent anti-poverty tool in two ways. First, through individual case work that enables poor people to gain access to the rights and benefits from state and federal service agencies, health care providers, and schools to which they are entitled. Second, through large, class-action lawsuits and advocacy efforts that change laws and governmental policies that adversely ― and overwhelmingly ― affect poor people.