Civil legal aid probably saved Lisa’s son’s life.
That’s what the 55-year-old Medford mom will tell a crowd of lawyers on Thursday, when advocates gather to call for a massive boost in state funding for civil legal services for low-income residents.
Lisa, who asked Metro not to print her last name, said were it not for help from a Greater Boston Legal Services attorney, her son would have lost his MassHealth coverage and access to methadone, the drug that has helped him stay mostly sober for more than three years.
If his supply had been abruptly cut short, she said, he more likely than not would have started using heroin again.
“He told me, ‘If I get kicked off the methadone you might as well just bury me,’” Lisa said.
The Equal Justice Coalition on Thursday plans to gather hundreds of legal professionals and lead its annual “Walk to the Hill” to call on the state to increase the budget for civil legal services - free attorneys for low-income people who can’t afford a lawyer, and whose cases aren’t criminal and therefore don’t qualify for appointment of a public defender.
The attorneys help with everything from eviction and unemployment hearings to appeals on domestic violence and restraining order cases to, as with Lisa’s case, help navigating the complicated health care system.
The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, a quasi-government group that gets money from the state to address the issue – which it then funnels to groups like GBLS or uses to pay for training and non-legal advocacy - is asking for a $10 million funding increase this year from about $17 million to $27 million. It got a $2 million bump last year.
“We know the money is critically needed,” said Lonnie Powers, MLAC’s executive director. “We’re still far under what we need to be able to represent or provide other assistance to people who need it.”
Of those who seek help, 64 percent are turned away, Powers said.