Tens of thousands of Arizonans could lose legal help under Trump's budget

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Community Legal Services, Inc. is at risk of losing about 75 percent of its budget under the president's proposal. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Community Legal Services, Inc. is at risk of losing about 75 percent of its budget under the president's proposal. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Tauheedah Jabaar used Community Legal Services, Inc. to get key documents so she wouldn't have to see her abuser in family court. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Tauheedah Jabaar used Community Legal Services, Inc. to get key documents so she wouldn't have to see her abuser in family court. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
More than 35,800 Arizonans received this kind of federally funded free legal help last year. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) More than 35,800 Arizonans received this kind of federally funded free legal help last year. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

Tauheedah Jabaar spent a year planning her escape.

The mother of nine hid children’s clothing and crumpled dollar bills in a broken-down station wagon behind her home, preparing for the day she would flee her abusive ex-husband.

“During that week that he was in jail, I escaped with the children,” she said. “Me and the children boarded a Greyhound bus and we traveled for days and when we got here, I had 53 cents in my pocket. Literally.”

Escaping with almost nothing ended the abuse, but it created a host of new problems. She had trouble getting birth certificates for two children who were born at home using a midwife. Jabaar admits there was an easy way to get the documents – if she were willing to ask her abuser to appear with her in court.

“Because we were in hiding from him for almost 10 years,” she said. “There was no way I would contact him or ask him to do anything.”

Instead, she reached out to Community Legal Services, Inc. The federally funded nonprofit gave Jabaar free legal representation, and after years of court hearings and motions, they were able to secure the missing documents.

“It was vital,” she said. “If they had not helped me, to this day I do not know what we would have done.”

More than 35,800 Arizonans received this kind of federally funded free legal help last year – help that could be eliminated if Congress adopts President Donald Trump’s budget proposal.

The president’s budget outline calls for eliminating the Legal Services Corporation. The LSC was created in 1974 with bipartisan congressional support. Congress has included funding for it every year for 42 years “so that low-income constituents might realize our country’s solemn pledge of ‘justice for all.’”

Community Legal Services, Inc. gets 75 percent of its budget from the LSC, according to Executive Director Lillian O. Johnson.

“We are a little panicky over the impact of the loss of such a significant amount of our funding,” she said.

The Arizona nonprofit represented about 6,000 clients in court last year and provided some degree of legal advice or counseling to more than 17,000. Even though applicants must be within 125 percent of the federal poverty line, the demand for services is so high that attorneys can only take on the most severe cases, Johnson said.

“We really focus on victims of domestic violence,” she said.

The proposed cuts would have a devastating impact on the number of clients they could serve, she said. The nonprofit operates in five counties.

“We have offices in those other counties, and we won't be able to continue to have offices with the loss of resources,” she said. “We'd go from [about] 30 lawyers to five. So you can imagine the significant impact.”

In all, Community Legal Services and two other Arizona nonprofits received more than $11.7 million from the LSC in 2016. The federal aid funded more than 200 attorneys, paralegals and other employees in this state.

“It's frightening to think,” said Jabaar. “If they take this funding away and take these services away, it's going to have a terrible impact on the way things are going to turn out for these parents and these children.”

Copyright 2017 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.


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