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New Deal for Legal Aid

THE Legal Services Corporation - a private, government-aided agency, which for more than three quarters of a century has served poor people in the United States - has itself been the recent beneficiary of enlightened action by dedicated backers in Congress. A bipartisan group of US representatives and senators, with help from then-President George Bush, has managed to give Legal Services a guarantee of relative longevity - five-year authorization and at least $357 million for fiscal year 1993.

Not since 1977 had the organization started a fiscal year with both federal authorization and funding assured. When Ronald Reagan became president in 1981 he appointed a Legal Services board that was bent on scuttling the federal government's role.

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As a result, restrictions were imposed on some Legal Services activities, especially in the political realm. However, it soon became clear that the Reagan-appointed board was determined to cut the Legal Aid appropriation drastically, if not to withdraw support entirely. That effort did much damage to the Legal Services effort, but it failed to entirely block the federal role in providing legal help to the poor.

When George Bush became president, the tide began to change. Mr. Bush managed in the last four years to replace most of the Reagan appointees, while US Rep. Barney Frank (D) of Massachusetts and Sen. Warren Rudman (R) of New Hampshire kept a moderate amount of money flowing. Legal Services leans heavily on federal funding, but it was not about to disappear if that source was withdrawn. It is supported by other public and private sources.

Enlightened members of Congress in both houses and from both parties managed to retain authorization and funding by attaching provisions to other legislation.

Now the 2,800 or so Legal Services lawyers in the US can go about their work knowing they have the support of their government and the appreciation of those who are in need of counsel.

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