Monday, March 19, 2012

Executive Director’s Desk

For over 35 years I have had the privilege of serving the civil legal needs of the low-income community in Ohio, Wyoming and Pennsylvania as a legal aid professional.

In that time I have witnessed the “highs and lows” of government support for legal aid, and the ways in which funding has increased or decreased as a result of changes in the economic prosperity of our nation, and public policy decisions that are made as a result of these conditions.

The recent economic downturn that our nation is slowly emerging out of has placed a tremendous strain on government budgets at the federal, state and local levels. This has lead to significant funding cuts for legal aid, and for other social service organizations that serve the poor.

Since last summer, state support for civil legal services has been cut by 20 percent, while federal funding has been cut by 14 percent. This is in addition to historically-low interest rates that diminish support for legal aid from the Pennsylvania Interest on Lawyers Trust Account (PA IOLTA).

So far, Northwestern Legal Services has been able to handle these cutbacks in funding without reductions in staff or program services. I do not know, however, the added challenges that the future will bring, and how this will impact the legal assistance we provide throughout northwestern Pennsylvania in the days ahead.

What I can promise to do to people who look to us for help is offer my pledge to use whatever resources we have to continue to serve the legal needs of the low-income community through direct representation and counsel, brief service and telephone advice, along with community legal education and outreach.

Despite significant cuts in funding, our mission is still the same.

Very truly yours,

Robert A. Oakley, Esq.
NWLS Executive Director