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Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2013

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. WESTMORELAND. Mr. Chairman, my amendment is to reduce funding by $128 million for the Legal Services Corporation in the fiscal year 2013 CJS appropriations bill, bringing this funding down to only $200 million for FY13. The $128 million would then be moved to the spending reduction account for deficit reduction.

The main focus of the Legal Services Corporation, at least in the eyes of every farmer, rancher, poultry producer I have met, is to harass those in the agriculture business.

Some examples of this unwarranted harassment include filing surprise lawsuits against farmers for problems found related to housing and transportation, payment issues related to work visas and visa applications, border-crossing fees, et cetera, all without allowing the farmers and the migrant workers to attempt arbitration. Some of those are of Legal Services Corporation's representatives actively soliciting clients by knowingly trespassing on farm property or by waiting for migrant workers outside of Wal-Mart stores and other places and informing such workers that, if they sue their employers for even the most minor of issues, they will receive monetary settlements.

These lawsuits cost our farmers hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees each year and, in some cases, cause their financial ruin. In 2008, in one specific case in Georgia, that of a farmer who did not want to mention his name for fear of retribution, his costs alone in legal fees were $525,000.

Furthermore, Federal LSC funding is redundant. According to a 2008 report--and I only use the 2008 report because there has not been a comprehensive report since 2008--for the Center for Justice, Law and Society at George Mason University, the total State, county and local expenditures for indigent defense services that same year were almost $4.5 billion. Federal defender organizations, which also use Federal funds for indigent defense services, received $849 million in Federal funds for the same purpose that year. Combined with the almost $351 million in funds that Congress appropriated to the Legal Services Corporation in 2008, the total amount dedicated to indigent defense services that year was almost $5.7 billion.

The American taxpayers do not want their money wasted on an organization like this. The agriculture community cannot afford to keep fighting the frivolous lawsuits that the Legal Services Corporation has filed, and we cannot afford to keep funding them in the current budgetary climate. Local legal services programs supplement the Legal Services Corporation's grants with funds from a variety of government and private sources.

This is not the only source of funding. Non-LSC funding sources include State and local grants; some interest on lawyers' trust account programs; Federal programs, such as title XX; the Social Services Block Grant; the Older Americans Act; the Violence Against Women Act; the Community Development Block Grants; and private grants from entities such as the United Way, foundations, and national, State and local bar associations. In addition, private attorneys accept referrals to provide legal services to the poor primarily through the Legal Services Corporation's funding of pro bono programs.

The LSC does not provide legal services directly. Rather, it funds local legal services providers referred to by the LSC as grantees. Grantees may include nonprofit organizations that have as a purpose the provision of legal assistance to eligible clients, private attorneys, groups of private attorneys or law firms, State or local governments, and certain sub-State regional planning and coordination agencies.

In its FY 1996 budget resolution, the House assumed a 3-year phase-out of the Legal Services Corporation, recommending the appropriation of $278 million. Here is what the budget report said:

Too often, lawyers funded through Federal Legal Services Corporation grants have focused on political causes and class action lawsuits rather than helping poor Americans solve their legal problems. A phase-out of Federal funding for the LSC will not eliminate free legal aid to the poor. State and local governments, bar associations and other organizations already provide substantial legal aid to the poor.

With that, I think this is a good reduction in order to start to eliminate the funding, and I hope that we can pass this amendment and then, further, the reduction.

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Mr. WESTMORELAND. Mr. Chairman, I want to thank my colleague for yielding.

I want to again emphasize that, according to a 2008 report by the Center for Justice, Law, and Society at George Mason University, the total State, county, and local expenditures for indigent defense services that same year was almost $4.5 billion. Federal defender organizations, which also used Federal funds for indigent defense services, received an additional $849 million in Federal funds for the same purpose that year. Combined with the almost $351 million in funds that the Congress appropriated that year, it brings the total to $5.7 billion. Of that $5.7 billion total, only 6.1 percent was appropriated by Congress, assuming total non-Legal Services Corporation funding for indigent defense services has not increased since then.

My amendment to reduce the agency by $128 million down to $200 million would result in a 2.5 percent decrease in overall indigent defense service funding. Reducing the Legal Services Corporation funding to $200 million, as my amendment would do, would reduce overall CJS funding by 0.0039 percent. Mr. Chairman, if we can't cut 0.0039 percent, then we're going to have a lot bigger problems on our hands at the end of the day.

Mr. BROUN of Georgia. Mr. Chairman, reclaiming my time, I appreciate my colleague's amendment on this. It makes sense. It is a very miniscule cut, and Congress needs to face the fact that America is broke. We don't have the money to keep spending. Both parties are guilty of spending money that we don't have, spending money that eventually is going to have to be paid for by our grandchildren's children. We just have to stop the spending addiction that we have here in Washington.

I'm an addictionologist, a medical doctor, and I've done addiction medicine. Addiction medicine has a saying that ``if there is no denial, there is no addiction.'' There is denial here in this Congress. There is denial that we have a fiscal crisis as a Nation. This is just a miniscule cut, not much at all.

I support the gentleman's amendment. I hope my colleagues will support it and we can pass this minimal cut in this program.

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Mr. WESTMORELAND. Mr. Chairman, my amendment is to reduce funding by $128 million for the Legal Services Corporation in the fiscal year 2013 CJS appropriations bill, bringing this funding down to only $200 million for FY13. The $128 million would then be moved to the spending reduction account for deficit reduction.

The main focus of the Legal Services Corporation, at least in the eyes of every farmer, rancher, poultry producer I have met, is to harass those in the agriculture business.

Some examples of this unwarranted harassment include filing surprise lawsuits against farmers for problems found related to housing and transportation, payment issues related to work visas and visa applications, border-crossing fees, et cetera, all without allowing the farmers and the migrant workers to attempt arbitration. Some of those are of Legal Services Corporation's representatives actively soliciting clients by knowingly trespassing on farm property or by waiting for migrant workers outside of Wal-Mart stores and other places and informing such workers that, if they sue their employers for even the most minor of issues, they will receive monetary settlements.

These lawsuits cost our farmers hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees each year and, in some cases, cause their financial ruin. In 2008, in one specific case in Georgia, that of a farmer who did not want to mention his name for fear of retribution, his costs alone in legal fees were $525,000.

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