WisTAF awards $3.3 million in Civil Legal Aid grants
For the City Times
MADISON – The Wisconsin Trust Account Foundation, Inc. (WisTAF) announced $3.3 million in civil legal aid grant awards that will be used by 19 nonprofit organizations in all regions of Wisconsin to protect people’s safety, livelihood, housing, and independence in the face of legal challenges. The funds will be distributed in 2022 and 2023.
“Think of grandparents raising their grandchild but needing official guardianship. Or, consider a victim of domestic violence who wants to protect herself and her family. Landlords and tenants often want to negotiate better solutions than eviction. These are cases handled regularly by Wisconsin civil legal aid providers. These organizations play a crucial role for our state,” said April Rockstead Barker, chairperson of the WisTAF Board of Directors.
The grants announced today are an example of civil legal aid, a strategy for addressing a longstanding hole in the justice system. While many people know of the Constitution’s guarantee of an attorney in criminal cases, there is typically no such guarantee outside of criminal law: an area broadly known as civil law.
However, civil law encompasses measures most people take for granted such as protecting their fundamental housing, employment, and medical care needs. A person who can’t afford a lawyer often struggles to navigate the legal system’s complexities. This struggle makes justice and stability elusive, and often creates costs for taxpayers in the form of courtroom inefficiency or the emergency services and public support needed when challenges fester.
Research shows low-income people’s civil legal needs typically go unmet, due to lack of resources or awareness. The COVID-19 pandemic has ballooned those needs, while decreasing funding from key sources.
Nonprofit law firms and others use WisTAF’s grants to offer advice, full legal representation, and access to online and in-person information to those who couldn’t otherwise afford a lawyer.
“So much thought has gone into passing legal protections that are supposed to be available to everyone. We should make sure people can in fact access those protections, especially when the stakes are high,” said Rebecca L. Murray, executive director of WisTAF.
WisTAF, a nonprofit organization established by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, is the state’s channel for general civil legal aid funding. In 2020, providers used WisTAF grants to assist more than 10,000 clients spread across every county in the state.
The grant awards announced today come from two of WisTAF’s civil legal aid grant programs:
– Direct Legal Services (DLS) allows providers flexibility to help low-income people address barriers to self-sufficiency. It is WisTAF’s oldest and largest grant program. In 2020, the most common types of cases were those related to housing (29 percent), family law (11 percent), and guardianship issues (9 percent).
-The Foreclosure Prevention/Community Redevelopment Legal Assistance (FP/CRLA) program catalyzes innovative practices to help low-income individuals and families stay in their homes and achieve financial stability. Simultaneously, providers in this program work at the community level to empower and stabilize groups facing disadvantage.
Seventeen organizations received DLS grants for 2022, while six organizations received FP/CRLA grants for both 2022 and 2023. Details are provided below.
WisTAF is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that works with civil legal aid organizations in the state to increase access to justice. WisTAF oversees funds and invests in services to help people resolve legal problems.
Portage County organizations include: Portage County Legal Aid Society, and the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of La Crosse.