From the Office of State Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 22, 2009
CONTACT: Arturo Ballesteros, (512) 463-0120 office, (512) 810-1294 cell
or Kimberly Schmitt, TAJF, 800-252-3401 ext 104

Texas Access to Justice Foundation Announces 2009-10 Grant Awards

Funds will support five South Texas nonprofits that provide civil legal services

AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Access to Justice Foundation (TAJF) has announced its 2009-2010 grants that will help fund 39 nonprofit civil legal aid organizations throughout Texas. This year’s grant awards from the Texas Access to Justice Foundation include $10 million allocated by the Texas Legislature to help offset a dramatic drop in funding due to low interest rates’ effect on the Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Account (IOLTA) program, a primary funding source for legal aid in Texas.

"I worked hard to secure this funding because I believe in a person's fundamental right to seek justice in a court of law. Legal aid's primary purpose is to provide equal access to the judicial system,” said State Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa. “Sadly, access to justice is largely an issue of affordability. This boost in funding will help to maintain Legal Aid's service delivery levels while we explore additional options to support this vital system. So many Texans go without all types of basic services. Lack of access to the legal system makes some of our neighbors especially vulnerable. For me, there are few priorities as important as ensuring everyone has the opportunity to seek justice in the courts."

The South Texas nonprofits receiving grant awards include:

With the help of grants from the Texas Access to Justice Foundation, public interest and pro bono lawyers provide legal representation to low-income Texans with basic civil legal problems, such as landlord-tenant issues, family law matters, employment law, access to earned benefits and consumer issues. Each year, TAJF grantees help more than 100,000 low-income individuals and families with their civil legal needs.

“Funding for civil legal services in the Valley helps many low-income residents who have no where else to turn,” said Juanita Valdez-Cox, Executive Director of La Union del Pueblo Entero (LUPE). “Unfortunately, thousands more families with legitimate needs go un-served because there is never enough funding available,” she continued.

“As interest rates continue to decimate IOLTA funding for legal aid, the recent legislative action, with the leadership of Senator Hinojosa and many others, will help ensure that our grantees will be able to maintain their current level of services,” Betty Balli Torres, executive director of the Texas Access to Justice Foundation, said. “As we see the number of poor and needy Texans rise due to economic conditions it is imperative that we strive to increase our current level of service which reaches only 20-25 percent of those in need of civil legal representation.” To qualify for legal help from a program which received an award, an individual normally cannot earn more than $13,538 per year. A family of four must earn less than $27,563 per year.

Unlike the criminal justice system, low-income Texans facing civil legal problems are not guaranteed an attorney. According to a recent U.S. Census Bureau report, Texas is the eighth-poorest state in the country, with 3.9 million Texans living below the poverty level, and more than 5.1 million qualify for legal aid.

The Texas Access to Justice Foundation was created by the Supreme Court of Texas and is the largest Texas funding source for legal services to the poor. The board of directors is appointed by the Supreme Court of Texas and the State Bar of Texas; TAJF has awarded more than $240 million in 25 years of existence. TAJF collects and administers several funds including: Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (IOLTA), Basic Civil Legal Services (filing fees, fees assessed to out-of-state attorneys practicing in Texas, and other public funding), crime victims’ funds and private donations.

More information about the Foundation, its grantees, and the work it supports can be found by visiting www.teajf.org.

The Texas Access to Justice Foundation, created by the Supreme Court of Texas in 1984, is the largest state-based funding source for the provision of civil legal aid in Texas. The organization is committed to the vision that all Texans will have equal access to justice, regardless of their income. The Foundation administers a variety of funding sources, which are earmarked to assist nonprofit organizations in providing legal aid to approximately 100,000 Texans each year.

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