Good Afternoon Committee,
I am Erica Nelson, Executive Director of Legal Interventions for Transforming Wisconsin, or LIFT Wisconsin. The organization is dedicated to increasing access for low-income Wisconsinites to civil legal justice.
I am here in support of the $22 Million dollars in the proposed Biennial Budget for Civil Legal Aid.
There are over 750,000 Wisconsin residents who face a legal issue in Wisconsin each year. Over half a million of whom will not have their issues resolved.
Expanding Civil Legal Aid, information, and resources is a critical avenue to addressing many barriers that Wisconsinites face to achieve economic stability, employment, housing, health care access, and ultimately a more prosperous and thriving future.
Issues such as a suspended drivers license, medical and consumer debt, eviction records, and other costly civil legal issues trap citizens in a revolving door of overwhelming and complicated obstacles. Obstacles that cannot be overcome without support such as legal aid attorneys and expansion of information and resources on how to tackle them. Those most buried by these issues are often those in our communities that are least resourced – seniors, veterans, those with disabilities, families with young children and rural Wisconsinites far from services. The limited number of civil legal aid attorneys also aggravates this issue.
These compounding and unresolved legal issues cost the state and the taxpayer. However, for every dollar invested in civil legal aid access, $7.66 is returned back to the economy. This reduces the reliance on public spending, increases court and administrative efficiency and puts more money into local economies.
Civil Legal Aid Access is a family issue, a workforce development issue, an economic issue and a moral one – Wisconsinites should not be denied justice because they cannot afford it!
By investing in expanding civil legal aid we can level the legal playing field.
Thank you and I appreciate the time.