UPDATE | By Richard L. Tate, Chair, Texas Access to Justice Foundation Board of Directors
Thousands of disadvantaged Texans and their families receive desperately needed legal services across the state each year through funding provided by the Texas Access to Justice Foundation (TAJF) to legal aid programs.
TAJF recently announced grants that will fund civil legal services for veterans and sexual assault survivors, as well as basic civil legal services. More than $63 million, over the next two years, will be distributed to 30 nonprofit legal aid organizations throughout Texas, thanks in part to the general appropriation provided by the 84th Texas Legislature for civil legal aid.
In addition, the Texas Legislature approved the Supreme Court’s funding request of $3 million for legal services for Texas veterans and their families. With these grants, public interest and pro bono lawyers are able to expand legal representation to veterans with civil legal problems such as denial of benefits or disability, family law matters arising from deployment, and other issues that may arise due to a veteran’s absence from home during military service.
Texas legislators also appropriated funding for a new area of legal aid for survivors of sexual assault (LASSA). The Court received $10 million for civil legal services for Texas victims of sexual assault, including human trafficking. In Texas, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 20 men will be assaulted during their lifetime, according to the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault.
To help serve this segment of the population, the Texas Access to Justice Foundation assembled several experts this summer to learn best practices for representing victims of sexual assault and showcasing model legal aid programs.
Through the LASSA grants, we plan to provide survivors of sexual assault ready access to knowledgeable and competent legal assistance. The funding for these grants was obtained through a state tax levied on certain types of sexually-oriented businesses.
We thank our Texas legislators, who have made it evident through funding, that Texas cares about ensuring all have access to civil legal services. However, there is still much to do in our large state where more than 5.8 million people (nearly 22 percent) qualify for legal aid services.
We greatly appreciate the many lawyers who support legal aid efforts on the annual bar dues statement or in your local area and provide pro bono legal services. We also thank our Texas IOLTA Prime Partner Banks, and the lawyers who bank at them, for keeping IOLTA revenue afloat during the last few years of dismal interest rates.
It takes all of us, working together, to ensure the vision of access to justice for all becomes a reality.