Donald Trump Plans To Eliminate Legal Aid Funding That Supports Survivors Of Domestic Violence

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BY: Jordan Smith 03.21.17

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It wasn’t long after Sonota got married that her husband began to abuse her. After her second child was born in 2012, the violence accelerated; police were often called to the couple’s St. Louis, Missouri, home, and Sonota had to seek medical attention more than once. With a 1-year-old son and newborn daughter, Sonota knew she was in trouble. “I had a lack of support and I was in an abusive situation and I had two babies,” she told The Intercept. “I was just very overwhelmed and lost and needed some type of guidance and help to get into a safe place in my life for my kids.”

Sonota found that help at Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, a nonprofit legal aid organization that provides lawyers for low-income individuals navigating the civil justice system. For Sonota, that meant helping her to obtain a protective order against her husband, to file for divorce, and to secure child support for her children. Her legal aid attorney also helped her to get access to therapy, a cellphone for emergencies, and school supplies and Christmas presents for her children. The assistance made it possible for Sonota to get her life back on track — into housing and back into school, where she obtained an associate degree in business management and accounting. “I love business,” she said. She intends to use her education in part “to teach my kids how to be employers and not employees.”

“Deliverance was everything,” Sonota said. Her legal aid champions “were compassionate and yet realistic and logical, you know, to direct me on a better path in life, and I just love them for that.”

But if President Donald Trump’s “skinny budget” blueprint is adopted and passed by Congress, the federal funding that supports Legal Services of Eastern Missouri and a network of other legal aid groups across the country would disappear. That’s because the proposed budget eliminates the 43-year-old Legal Services Corporation, the federal entity that provides millions for state-based legal aid operations. Cutting its funding would deny millions of poor people access to the civil justice system, a circumstance that would disproportionately impact women, who make up 70 percent of clients served by LSC funds. Indeed, fully one-third of cases handled by LSC-affiliated groups involve women, like Sonota, who are victims of domestic violence.

In his budget note, Trump wrote that his “aim is to meet the simple, but crucial demand of our citizens — a government that puts the needs of its own people first. When we do that we will set free the dreams of every American, and we will begin a new chapter of American greatness.” Cutting a program that provides for the safety of domestic violence survivors — among many others — seems an odd way to achieve greatness.

The LSC was created in 1974 and has enjoyed bipartisan support for more than four decades. Its mission is to help provide meaningful access to the justice system for poor people who cannot afford an attorney in civil matters — including family law cases (concerning divorce and child custody matters as well as domestic violence), cases involving eviction or home foreclosure, cases where veterans are seeking access to benefits, and cases where the elderly have been preyed upon by financial scammers.