MBA President Grace V.B. Garcia speaks at the 2023 Talk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid.
On Thursday, Jan. 26, the Massachusetts Bar Association co-sponsored the Talk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid to advocate for increased funding for civil legal services throughout the commonwealth. More than 700 members of the legal community gathered virtually to hear speakers talk about the importance of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation’s (MLAC) $49 million budget request for FY24.
Traditionally held in-person at the State House as Walk to the Hill, this year’s program was conducted as a virtual event for the third year in a row due to the pandemic. Following the speaking program, participants joined Zoom breakout rooms to speak with senators and representatives from their respective districts.
At the start of the program, Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey welcomed participants and offered her continued support for legal aid funding, before turning over the program to Louis Tompros, chair of the Equal Justice Coalition, who served as the event host. The speaking portion also included remarks from MBA President Grace V.B. Garcia, who urged participants, “Please join me today with the MBA in championing equal access to an essential resource for our state’s most vulnerable residents and families.”
Other speakers included Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Kimberly S. Budd, Boston Bar Association President Chinh H. Pham, MLAC Executive Director Lynne M. Parker and Greater Boston Legal Services Executive Director Jacquelynne Bowman.
Quoting Martin Luther King Jr., Budd said: “Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. In that spirit when you speak to your legislators today, remind them funding legal aid is not just another appropriation. It is a fundamental step toward realizing the foundational promise of our legal system for everyone that we will provide equal justice for all.”
Two civil legal aid clients — Simi and Jim — also recounted their own experience of receiving legal aid assistance over the past year.
Simi, a Nigerian immigrant who came to the U.S. through a scholarship program, spoke about how attorney Jay McManus and the Children’s Law Center helped her file for Special Immigrant Juvenile status, which opened the path to get a green card, and also helped her secure a foster placement and enroll in school. “Having access to the Children’s Law Center and lawyers like Jay … it’s like a ticket to hope,” Simi said.
Jim, the other legal aid client speaker, who was initially told he had to pay back unemployment benefits he received during the pandemic, credited the legal aid assistance he received from attorney Vera Ochea for getting his unemployment assistance claim validated. “It meant a significant difference to my emotional and financial health,” he said.
While this year’s program has ended, it is not too late to make your support for civil legal aid known. Please reach out to your legislators and voice your support for $49 million in funding for civil legal aid in the FY24 state budget. To find out who your legislators are, click here. To learn more about this year’s Talk to the Hill event, visit https://ejctalktothehill.org.