COVID-19 emergency funds distributed by the state of Washington in April included $3 million for the state’s Civil Legal Aid program. Now, an additional $2.3 million has been tentatively approved for the program.
In the initial round of funding, the civil legal aid was targeted at helping workers get the unemployment money they’re due and preventing renters from being unlawfully evicted.
James Bamberger, director of the Washington Office of Civil Legal Aid, said the money, which was approved on April 30, is just starting to be put to use. Still, Washington is set to expand the program. James Bamberger said the $2.3 million will help people experiencing problems as companies begin to rehire people.
“There are going to be a lot of questions about compliance with health and safety rules, compliance with the governor’s emergency orders and then there will be any number of issues related to the issue of reemployment,” Bamberger said.
For example, he said, people may face discrimination as companies begin re-employment, given systemic racism that exists in society and workplaces. The money could help people with legal issues in that case or could help people who are hesitant to return to work because of health and safety concerns, but are concerned they will no longer qualify for unemployment.
He said another area of focus in the second phase of funding will be domestic violence. He said victims need help who’ve been put at risk during the stay at home orders. Legal aid attorneys could help people fill out online forms for protection orders. He said a victim hotline will also add capacity.
Unlike with criminal cases, there’s no requirement that people involved in civil disputes be provided with an attorney. But, the state Legislature provides funds for the Office of Civil Legal Aid as a way to provide more access to justice for people who can’t afford it.