Jacksonville Area Legal Aid facing cuts

Clients who can't afford attorney to be affected

By Jim Piggott - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - As the mayor plans to present his budget to the city next week, Channel 4 is learning about even more cuts for people who need help the most -- those with legal troubles who can't afford an attorney.

The city has relied on Jacksonville Area Legal Aid to help those in need in the past, but now it's getting ready to cut funding to that program.

Annette Baker was at Legal Aid Monday hoping to get help with her foreclose case. Times are tough and she can't afford an attorney.

"It's very important to me because it's just me living in the house alone, and me just having a part-time job is not getting it for me. So I fell behind in my mortgage," Baker said.

Fiscal year 2014 Public Service Grants council recommendations

Legal Aid recently learned it did not make the cut when it comes to city funding. It was hoping to get $135,000 in a public service grant that would help in housing issues, such as landlord tenant disputes.

"We are being asked to provide more service in this area, particularly on landlord tenant," said Jim Kowalski, of Legal Aid. "We are being asked to do that at the same time the city continues to cut its budget for social services, generally. The city uses a number of nonprofits to provide services for its citizens. So at the same time, we are being asked to take on landlord tenant cases."

The city has only so much to work with when it comes to public service grants -- $2.3 million -- substantially less than in years past. The grants were scored on a per-need basis by a citizens committee and will have to be approved by City Council.

Council member Lori Boyer said it will be tough to change.

"Changes could be made. Now, I think that is probably unlikely," Boyer said.

Agencies like Legal Aid will continue to lobby, but the clients say they are the ones losing out.

"The public as a whole, some of us will not be able to have good representation because not everyone can afford to get a lawyer to do the job," client Patrick Freeman said.

The nonprofit center in Jacksonville says it is aware of what's happening and is trying to assess the full impact the cuts have on Jacksonville. It hopes to have a report next week.

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