As we start 2024, we also enter the season of accountability, impact, and advocacy. Last week, I had the opportunity to testify before the District of Columbia Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety during its Performance Oversight hearing for the Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants, our grant administrator. The Foundation is the administrator of the Access to Justice Initiative (ATJI) funds. This annual testimony is when I have an opportunity to share with the Council about the funds we distributed in the prior fiscal year and their impact. It is also a time when I—and others in the DC legal aid community—advocate for the critical work we must continue to do in order to support DC residents.
Our grantee partners continue to do vital work. During my testimony, I highlighted some accomplishments from FY23 and the overall impact the civil legal aid community has made since we began administering ATJ funds in 2007.
My recap below is what I shared with Chairwoman Pinto during my Oversight Testimony.
The Access to Justice Initiative has three programs at the Foundation: (1) the Access to Justice Grants Program, (2) the Civil Legal Counsel Projects Program (CLCPP), and (3) the DC Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP). In addition to the grants we provide through this funding, we also provide training and technical assistance to our grantees.
The Initiative is a program that works, and we have the data to prove it. Here is how:
Funding all areas of civil legal aid through the Access to Justice Grants Program. The Access to Justice Grants Program helps fund every area of Civil Legal Aid, including employment, public benefits, consumer law, housing, and many other areas. In the six months from January through June 2023, nearly 7,300 cases were closed. When we receive the final reports for FY23, which should be available within the next two months, we expect to surpass the FY22 closed cases number, which was almost 13,000.
Increasing the number of clients served through the Civil Legal Counsel Projects Program. CLCPP supports DC legal aid organizations that provide representation in eviction prevention and defense proceedings for District residents with low incomes. CLCPP received an $11 million investment in FY23, and it was used to help clients who faced eviction, needed help with an eviction proceeding, or faced the loss of a housing subsidy. From August 2019 through June 2023, the program helped more than 7,400 residents, and more than 9,000 cases were closed.
Providing financial relief to more attorneys through the DC Loan Repayment Assistance Program. LRAP provides student loan repayment assistance to legal aid attorneys, and more attorneys are enrolling in the program. At the end of FY23 (September), there were 36 attorneys enrolled in the program. That number has since risen to 49—a 36% increase as of November.
My final points were about systems change and public safety.
The Access to Justice Initiative makes systems change possible. ATJI funds have supported the development of a Coordinated Intake and Referral system that will improve the delivery of civil legal aid in our city and serve as a model for other jurisdictions around the country. Most notably, in FY23, we partnered with other OVSJG grantees and community stakeholders to host a series of focus groups to hear directly from District residents about what they need in the system.
The Access to Justice Initiative Funds promote public safety. ATJI funds support a variety of civil legal aid interventions that can help with public safety issues, including domestic violence support and assistance for formerly incarcerated persons. We can reduce our chances of community crisis when we can help individuals who face difficult life circumstances. For instance, if we can provide trauma-informed support for victims of domestic violence, help formerly incarcerated persons transition back into the community, and provide legal services for debt-related lawsuits, individuals are better positioned to overcome these challenges. These are only a few instances where support and assistance can help. Early, successful intervention methods can create more stability and resiliency in our communities.
Without the funding we receive through the Access to Justice Initiative, which supports Access to Justice Grants, the Civil Legal Counsel Projects Program, and the DC Loan Repayment Assistance Program, we would not be able to help the many residents in DC who need assistance. We made incredible progress in FY23, and I was grateful to be able to share that in my Oversight Testimony.
Kirra L. Jarratt
Chief Executive Officer