After a sustained spotlight and continued advocacy by the Maryland Attorney General’s COVID-19 Access to Justice Task Force, which is co-led by the MSBA-backed Maryland Access to Justice Commission, yesterday, Maryland Attorney General Frosh and Governor Hogan announced $11.7 million dollars to provide legal services to residents facing eviction and homelessness.
As many national and local studies establish, counsel in eviction cases often means the difference between families staying in their homes or losing their homes. “Even before the pandemic, many Marylanders were being wrongfully evicted – not because they did anything wrong, but because they did not have the legal information or representation they needed. This is an injustice at any time, but even more so when we are living through a global pandemic and the CDC has unequivocally stated that evictions are a direct threat to personal and public health. We thank Governor Hogan and Attorney General Frosh for their leadership in recognizing the importance of civil legal aid to those facing eviction or homelessness and for investing in these critical, yet often overlooked, services,” said Reena Shah, Executive Director of the Maryland Access to Justice Commission.
On September 1, 2020, the Maryland Attorney General’s COVID-19 Access to Justice Task Force – comprised of leaders from the state legislature, corporate, private law firm, government, philanthropy and other sectors – sent a letter to Governor Hogan requesting, among other things, $5M in time-limited CARES Act funding for civil legal aid. This was to off-set an over 70% decline in funding experienced by the Maryland Legal Services Corporation (MLSC), the largest funder of legal services in Maryland, whose primary sources of funding – Interest of Lawyer Trust Accounts (IOLTA) and filing fee surcharges – were decimated during the pandemic, resulting in less legal services for Marylanders at a time when the need is highest.
“One of the most urgent issues facing our state is the wave of evictions that so many residents face as a result of the pandemic,” said Attorney General Frosh. “We need to keep families in their homes and off the streets. I’m pleased we are able to dedicate this money, recovered through the hard work of our lawyers, for this vital purpose. I also want to thank the members of my COVID-19 Access to Justice Task Force for their advocacy for increased legal services funding and their work to help Marylanders facing the loss of their homes.”
“Maryland was one of the first states in the nation to implement a moratorium on evictions for tenants affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and we continue to provide targeted relief to help those in need,” said Governor Hogan. “These additional resources are yet another way that we are following through on our commitment to do everything we can to help Marylanders weather this storm, get back on their feet, and recover.”
“These funds could not have come at a more critical time for the preservation of Maryland’s civil legal aid safety net,” said Susan Erlichman, executive director of the Maryland Legal Services Corporation, the state’s major funder of civil legal aid. “MLSC is experiencing an unprecedented funding shortage due to the impact of COVID on our main revenue sources, and the action taken today translates into literally tens of thousands of Marylanders facing evictions and other matters who otherwise would have had no place to turn, now able to get the legal help they desperately need.”
Of the $11.7 million, $8.7 million in funds recovered by the Attorney General, and an additional $3 million in general funds will be directed to the MLSC to provide legal services to families facing eviction and other housing security issues. The $8.7 million was recovered by the Securities Division of the Attorney General for unlawful conduct during the financial crisis and may only be used for housing-related purposes.
The Maryland Access to Justice Commission is a proud partner of the Maryland State Bar Association. It unites leaders to drive reforms and innovations to make the civil justice system accessible, equitable and fair for all Marylanders.
For more information about the work of the COVID-19 Access to Justice Task Force, visit: https://www.marylandattorneygeneral.gov/Pages/A2JC/default.aspx. For more on the Access to Justice Commission, please visit: www.mdaccesstojustice.org.