To the list of legislative actions that have slapped the poor across their faces in North Carolina – no Medicaid expansion, higher sales taxes, tax cuts for the wealthy that have to be made up by those taxes – add reductions in state money for legal aid services. Assistance for several legal aid programs in the state has been reduced drastically in the last few years by Republicans in the General Assembly, who’ve conducted a one-sided war against the poor since taking control of the legislature.
The legal aid cuts done in the name of budget-balancing but now said by longtime observers to likely be permanent deny the poor a fair shake in the complicated legal system. That might mean a handicapped person can’t get access to a wheelchair, or worse, it might result in someone unjustly being thrown out of an apartment.
Lawyers vehemently oppose these cuts, and that’s not because it represents some kind of king’s ransom out of their pockets. Most attorneys who take cases for poor people lose money on them. But they try to help “pro bono” because they want the legal system to work for all.
Caryn McNeill, president of the North Carolina Bar Association, said the cuts will mean that more and more people will try to represent themselves in court. That’s going to mean their chances of a fair share are diminished, even though many judges try to see to is that such people understand what they are doing.
Other people, McNeill said, will just give up because they’ll figure the deck is stacked against them. “People who can’t access our legal system and get fair and experienced adjudication of issues don’t have any reason to trust the system,” she said.
Legal aid for the poor touches on all sorts of very important issues and rights, from ensuring health care for poor kids who desperately need it to trying to make certain that homelessness isn’t worsened by people being tossed to the streets when other forms of public assistance might help them.
Add to the cuts by the state the fact that President Trump’s budget wants all funding for the federal Legal Services Corp. eliminated. This, in a budget that heavily favors the wealthy and corporations.
State leaders didn’t apparently wish to offer any explanations for their actions. Once again we see lawmakers hurting people who can least afford to take the hit, and oh, by the way, have the least political clout. If a proposal comes up to help right a wrong done to big GOP contributors or others in the “establishment,” one may be sure that Republicans would spring into action to help. To help the very people who don’t need that helping hand.
The poor, meanwhile, just get their hands slapped back.