The Justice in Government Project Toolkit release

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The Justice in Government Project is delighted to announce the release of our new Toolkit!

The big idea behind The Justice in Government Project is to embed civil legal aid into state and local governments’ existing priorities, programs, and appropriations to increase effectiveness, efficiency, and fairness for low-and moderate-income people and communities. The Justice in Government Project’s newest Toolkit was developed to do just that. It is designed to help policymakers, practitioners, and grant administrators understand how legal aid can help them further their goals by providing research, information about funding, and examples of successful partnerships and programs.

State and local government programs help people remove obstacles to employment, stabilize housing for needy families, escape domestic violence, halt elder abuse, respond to disasters, secure appropriate benefits, and more. Too often these programs do not include legal aid as part of the package of support; however, including legal aid could achieve better results and ensure maximum benefit from public dollars if they did.

This Toolkit helps government policymakers, practitioners, grant administrators, legal profession leaders, social service providers, and legal aid or other advocates:

  • Learn about the evidence base for using legal aid to further government policy and program goals;
  • Identify sources of executive branch funding for legal aid;
  • Put legal aid on policymakers’ agendas; and
  • Find examples of states that currently advance their policy priorities with already appropriated federal block and other public funds that allow spending on legal aid.

To accomplish these goals, the Toolkit has three modules, each of which can be separately downloaded: the first module focuses on research relevant to legal aid and common government policy priorities such as reducing homelessness, helping veterans, and removing barriers to employment for jobseekers; the second module focuses on government funding sources that can allow spending on legal aid; and the third module walks through how states have developed partnerships among grant administrators, state and local executive branch policymakers, legal aid providers, and the judiciary to incorporate legal help to solve problems for the people government seeks to serve.

Highlights from this Toolkit include:

  • 15 topic-specific literature reviews. Each review begins with a one-page summary of the document (e.g., one sentence highlights from key studies and links to helpful tools), followed by an introduction describing the problem (e.g., what is the state of our foster care system), and followed by highlights from key studies that show how legal aid can help (e.g., how one study shows that legal aid can double the rate to adoption for children in foster care).
  • A grants matrix featuring information on 17 federal funding sources administered at the state level that can support legal aid. The matrix is intended as an introduction to the possibilities for partnering with state and local governments to address the need for civil legal help that advances government priorities.
  • A growing list of in-depth FAQs about how certain federal funding sources can support legal aid. These FAQs describe connections to legal aid, examples of how states and programs have accessed these funds, and helpful resources and next steps for policymakers and legal aid providers seeking to leverage limited resources.
  • Features on states such as Oklahoma and Washington State that leverage existing resources to support civil legal aid. In Oklahoma, a new policy includes legal services as a supportive service to help Oklahoma jobseekers with Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) formula funds. In Washington State, the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) Victim Assistance Grant funded a statewide partnership with legal aid to serve victims of crime.
  • Links to useful webinars and data sources.

The Justice in Government Project is pleased that its Toolkit is linked to the Voices for Civil Justice’s new All Rise for Civil Justice website, launching on March 21, which tells the story of America’s broken civil justice system, the people it hurts, the decisions that brought it to the brink, and the people working to make it better.

Karen Lash, Director and Practitioner-in-Residence, Justice Programs Office, American University School of Public Affairs & Casey Chiappetta, Graduate Research Associate, Justice Programs Office, American University School of Public Affairs