The Massachusetts House of Representatives passed a $49.7 billion budget for FY23 late on April 27. Among the items included in the budget were several MBA priorities. The House funded Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) at $41 million for civil legal aid. Additionally, the House included a provision making phone calls free for incarcerated individuals.
Civil legal aid is a vital component of the commonwealth’s COVID-19 recovery. Legal aid attorneys help resolve vital issues for our most vulnerable citizens related to housing, unemployment, health care, domestic violence and more. Pre-pandemic civil legal aid programs were forced to turn away 64% of eligible clients due to a lack of resources. Recent funding increases have lowered that number to 57%, which would drop further if the House budget number is included in the final budget. People with an income level at or below 125% of the federal poverty line or $34,688 for a family of four are eligible for legal aid.
Additionally, the House budget included provisions for free telephone calls for incarcerated individuals. The MBA has been supportive of legislation making phone calls for incarcerated individuals. The “for-profit” phone call system in Massachusetts is short-sighted and fails to consider that phone calls are critical to the mental health of those who are incarcerated and their post-incarceration success.
Also included in the House budget was a 12.5% compensation increase for judges and clerks in Massachusetts. Between 2018 and 2022, Massachusetts judges’ income was reduced by 25% due to inflation.
MBA Chief Legal Counsel and Chief Operating Officer Marin W. Healy said: “We are grateful to Speaker Ronald Mariano, Chairman Aaron Michlewitz, Chairman Michael Day and the entire House of Representatives for their support of these important access to justice issues.”
Attention now focuses on the Senate. They are expected to debate their version of the budget in May. A Conference Committee made up of members from both branches will then be tasked with reconciling the two budgets into one proposal prior to the start of FY23 on July 1.