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Grant will further legal aid for low-income Georgians | News

ATLANTA — The Georgia Legal Services Program is one of 15 legal aid organizations to recently receive a grant from the Legal Services Corporation to enhance pro bono services.

In total, LSC is awarding $4.75 million to support the growth of pro bono legal services for low-income Americans; GLSP will receive $304,946.

GLSP plans to use the funds to create standardized policies and procedures for its pro bono program, which it hopes will improve the integration of pro bono services to more rural areas of the state.

“That necessitates us reorienting our pro bono staff around the state to work more in a hybrid and virtual setting with our volunteers and with our clients,” said Mike Monahan, pro bono director for GLSP.

GLSP primarily serves Georgians outside of metro Atlanta with incomes up to 150% of the federal poverty level, and in some instances, those with up to 200% of the federal poverty level.

About 2 million low-income Georgians could qualify for free legal services, Monahan said. But access to a lawyer often presents a challenge since several counties have no pro bono lawyer, and at least 40 counties with five or fewer lawyers, he added.

“About 70% of that poor person population is found outside Metro Atlanta in our service territory, and we only have access in that territory to about 30% of the state’s lawyers,” Monahan said. “So there’s a huge mismatch of where the lawyers are and where the poor people are. And one of the reasons why we are transforming our services, especially after COVID and knowing how the world now operates, (is) to go to a more virtual and hybrid way to get all those many, many lawyers out of Atlanta and give them ways to reach our clients in rural Georgia.”

GLSP provides assistance in legal matters in areas of education, housing, health law, consumer law, family law and economic security such as public/benefits assistance.

“As a whole for the organization, housing, domestic violence, benefits assistance those are our some of our core top three,” said Mitzy Sharp Futro, director of development & communications for GLSP. “Economic security really underlies a lot of what we do and being able to assist people throughout the state with those issues. We have an education program that really is seeing more and more requests for assistance.”

According to GLSP’s annual report for 2020, the group received more than 77,000 calls for assistance. Of the cases that qualified for assistance and in a closed case, 60% were family or housing related.

With domestic violence on the rise during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, GLSP reported an increase in inquiries for domestic violence assistance, assisting more than 2,800 clients and 1,310 children.

“We secured more than $645,310 in financial benefits for survivors in family violence cases, including child support, health care, property settlements, spousal support and housing security,” the report states.

Overall low-income Americans received no or insufficient legal help for 92% of their substantial civil legal problems, according to LSC, a nonprofit established by Congress to ensure equal access to justice. Nearly one-half of those who did not seek legal help for one or more problems cite concerns about cost as a reason why.

“Meeting the vast legal needs of low-income Americans is a tough job for legal aid providers with limited resources,” LSC President Ronald S. Flagg stated. “Engaging pro bono attorneys and volunteers adds a powerful network that multiplies the impact of these organizations.”

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