Legal Aid veto is a real cut booing Alaskans | Opinions


Alaska Legal Services Corporation (ALSC) is a state-wide, non-profit law firm that has provided free civil legal aid to Alaskans in need since we opened in 1967. through our 12 regional offices (including Palmer and Wasilla) across our vast state.

Our primary goal of ensuring access and fairness in the justice system is a core American value. We believe like our founding fathers in justice for all, not just for the few who can afford it. The effectiveness and efficiency of the services we provide to the community are well documented and the community demand for our help is overwhelming.

Last year, when many faced the most difficult year of their lives, we helped over 7,000 Alaskans living in 205 different Alaskan communities through a complex legal crisis that has impacted family security, housing, health or financial stability. We are also the largest provider of civil legal aid to survivors of domestic violence, victims of crime, the elderly and many others who simply struggle to get basic legal help in difficult times.

We have an 86% success rate, and a recent study showed that for every dollar invested in our program, we save state and local governments five dollars. Decades of studies have shown that providing civilian legal aid to a survivor of domestic violence is the most effective intervention. This assistance may include obtaining protection orders from abusers, family custody issues, and obtaining other resources to meet basic needs.

Gov. Dunleavy’s editorial said that “whenever you hear someone speak out about ‘devastating cuts’ or ‘slanting blows’ they’re either misinformed or more likely they’re dishonest for scoring political points. These are hurtful words to those of us who have served our community diligently and been vetoed.

I’m incredibly proud of the work we do at ALSC, but the heartbreaking reality is that every day we are forced to turn down one person for every person we can help. We refuse them not because their cases lack merit, and not because there are no laws that would protect them. Instead, we turn them down because we just don’t have the resources to help everyone who needs us.

The governor’s veto of $ 400,000, 62% of our crown credits, reduced it to its lowest level since 2010. This means that we will now turn away 818 more Alaskans who need our help. Of those denied assistance: 78 will be veterans or military, 237 will be survivors of domestic violence, 269 will be victims of crime, and 245 will be elderly.

Yes, this is a “devastating cut” and yes, our state budget has been “slashed”. But no, we are not misinformed, dishonest, or seeking political points. We are just telling the truth. The veto on these funds will have real consequences for true Alaskans. In a state with the highest rates of domestic violence and sexual assault, what is the point of cutting funds for a program that is profitable and effective, and already has a shortfall?

These cuts will be felt by the “mother of three” and the 237 like her who will not be able to escape their attacker. It will be felt by “the senior trying to make ends meet” and 245 others like him who risk losing their homes to an illegal eviction or foreclosure.

These are real cuts that will hurt real Alaskans. We know this because they ask us to help them every day. If the governor is interested in meeting real Alaskans who will be hurt by these cuts, we would love to talk.

Nikole Nelson is Executive Director of the Alaska Legal Services Corporation, she has worked for ALSC since graduating from law school almost 25 years ago.

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