Legal Aid of North Carolina is closing three offices due to budget cuts totaling more than $2 million. Legal Aid serves poor people who can't afford legal help with issues like mortgage assistance and domestic violence. The non-profit is facing cuts from both the federal and state government. Legal Aid of North Carolina Executive Director George Hausen says they're closing the rural offices in Henderson, Boone, and Smithfield.
George Hausen: "Because those offices, because they cover so much geographic territory, don't serve as many clients. So if the issue is serving as many clients as possible with the same amount of money, we have to cut down on the travel and the time and kind of circle the wagons in the larger urban offices."
Hausen says they already have to turn away about half of the applications for help. He hopes Legal Aid will be spared more cuts.
Hausen: "Unfortunately, though, the U.S. House of Representatives just reported out a 26% cut in the legal services funding for 2012. I'm hoping the Senate and the Administration will oppose that. A 26% cut would mean about $104 million nationally but it would mean an additional $2 million here in North Carolina."
Hausen says the cuts deny poor people access to effective legal assistance.
Hausen: "I don't see us as an entitlement program. I don't see us as a government program. You know the courts should be operating. We should be providing due process and open access to everybody regardless of their economic ability to get in there. If our American ideals stand for anything, it's the rule of law. And I just don't see how cutting these programs helps shore that principle up."
Legal Aid has a budget of about $21 million and had about 150 attorneys on staff. But that was prior to the cuts. Hausen says people in need of services in rural areas should drive to the nearest Legal Aid office or call the toll-free help line at 866-219-5262.