Legal aid needs help

Published 11:05 pm Friday, November 18, 2011

The Virginia Legal Aid Society is scrambling for money after budget conferees in Congress agreed to what they are calling a drastic cut to their funding.

The society, which has an office in Suffolk, would lose about 7 percent of its current budget from the cut.

“Seven percent doesn’t sound huge, but it comes on top of earlier state funding cuts,” said Beth Doyle, communications director for the legal aid society.

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The society helps people with civil law problems, including such things as divorces, child support, child custody, evictions, foreclosures, safe housing rights, public housing access, landlord/tenant disputes, access to public benefits, illegal debt collections and more.

The budget conferees agreed to a 14.8-percent cut in funding for the Legal Services Corporation basic field grants for fiscal year 2012. That loss results in about $180,000 in funding slashed from Virginia Legal Aid Society.

The organization has offices in Suffolk, Emporia, Lynchburg, Farmville and Danville. Each one provides services to a large geographic area.

“A cut of this significance will greatly affect our ability to provide services to the thousands of low-income neighbors who come to us for help,” executive director David Neumeyer said. “Keeping up with the demand for our services is already a huge challenge, and now with this cut I’m afraid we’ll have to turn away even more people who have nowhere else to turn.”

During the fiscal year that ended in June, the Suffolk office helped 1,071 people. Nearly 40 percent of the cases involved family law.

“Everyone in our society should have access to our justice system, but that’s not the case when some people cannot afford it and some people can,” Neumeyer said. “Legal aid is what fills the gap when there’s nothing else.”

Neumeyer said the organization also relies on donations from individuals, foundations, the United Way and other sources, in addition to the federal government.

“This loss of funding will mean we cannot increase capacity and will need to start reducing staff size in 2012 if we do not bring in significant new income,” he said. “Private giving, like donations, foundations and United Ways, are the only hope we have of making up part of the loss, because government funding will not increase for the foreseeable future.”

Neumeyer said gifts of any size would be helpful.

“Every dollar helps,” he said. “Every time someone gives $20, there may be somebody else that’s giving $20, and pretty soon we can afford to take a case we couldn’t afford to take before.”

For more information on the Virginia Legal Aid Society or to donate, visit