NYC Council urges Mayor Adams to increase funding for legal aid providers
A majority of the City Council has signed a letter calling on Mayor Eric Adams to add at least $195 million for legal service providers to next year’s budget, warning that the city-supported lawyers face a “funding crisis.”
The letter, carrying signatures from 26 of the Council’s 51 members, said local right-to-counsel providers and public defenders need salary increases to ensure free legal services are available to millions of New Yorkers who rely on them.
The letter arrives as the left-leaning Council and the moderate mayor haggle over the municipal budget for the council-revenue-projections-more-mayor-adams-estimates-20230522-xn44h47x75bi5cl5u5oxaguqmq-story.html” data-ylk=”slk:2024 fiscal year;elm:context_link;itc:0″ class=”link “>2024 fiscal year. The deadline for the city to adopt the budget falls at the end of the month.
Support for legal service providers is a top priority for Council negotiators, said Councilman Shaun Abreu, the Manhattan Democrat who authored the letter.
He said more than 25,000 tenants are cycling through the housing court system without the lawyers they are entitled to by law. Salary rates have been cited as an obstacle to hiring and retaining the attorneys.
“This is really a call to the administration to cough up and pony up money in order to make sure that the right to counsel that was once promised continues to operate as intended,” Abreu said in an interview.
He said the $195 million requested amounts to just a “fraction of what’s needed.”
“What we’re calling for is to cover the existing contracts and the existing services so that we have right to counsel,” Abreu added.
In April, Adams detailed a $107 billion budget plan. The blueprint would be the largest in the city’s history, but critics say it would painfully shortchange some city services, including the 3-K for All preschool program, the library system and a meal delivery initiative for seniors.
The group of Council members said in their letter that insufficient funding for criminal defense outlined in the budget plan would feed a recent rise in defense lawyer attrition.
“If unaddressed this year, New Yorkers will be further disconnected from critical services, reinforcing bias in the legal system and eroding public safety,” stated the letter dated June 12.
Mayoral spokesman Jonah Allon said the “most effective way for the City Council to ensure we can continue funding shared priorities is to work with us toward an early or on-time budget, and we look forward to that continued partnership in the coming days.”
“We continue to help New Yorkers facing eviction stay in their homes, by strengthening tenant protections, investing in our first-in-the-nation Right to Counsel initiative and connecting tenants to emergency rental assistance,” said Allon’s statement.
On a trip to Albany in the winter, Adams called for more funding for public defenders, saying that they were overwhelmed and required a significant state investment.
The state budget approved last month committed $40 million for public defenders, according to Gov. Hochul’s office.
“When our organizations are unfunded, it’s our clients, Black and Latinx New Yorkers, who suffer the consequences,” said Twyler Carter, chief executive of the Legal Aid Society, in a statement. “The Legal Aid Society lauds the City Council for standing with us and the communities we represent.”
Abreu, who said he was evicted as a child, warned of harmful consequences if the city does not make a larger commitment toward legal aid providers.
“It will result in more displacement,” Abreu said.
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