Texas legal aid services face dramatic drop in funding

A heart-stopping drop in funding has created a "crisis of epic proportions" for programs that provide legal aid to the poor, according to Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson.

In 2007, a special fund provided Texas legal aid agencies with $20 million to support services for people at or below the federal poverty line. This year, the fund is projected to plummet to $1.5 million, Jefferson said.

That will force some legal aid programs to greatly scale back services, and other programs may close, said Betty Balli Torres, executive director of the Texas Access to Justice Foundation, which distributes the money.

Affected are 40 nonprofit organizations across the state that rely on the funding to help the poor with issues such as landlord-tenant disputes, foreclosures and domestic violence.

Each year, the nonprofits serve about 100,000 people, Torres said. They include people like Allison Turman, who wanted a divorce after her husband was arrested on suspicion of molesting an 8-year-old neighbor. A counselor at a Cleburne battered women’s shelter referred her to Legal Aid of Northwest Texas, which helped her get a divorce and a financial settlement that allowed her to care for her three sons.

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