Wisconsin used to provide state funding for civil legal services to low-income people. However, Governor Walker's first budget in 2011 shifted all of the state funding for civil legal services that were provided by a legal surcharge to other programs. This cut approximately $2.5 million per year in funding for civil legal services. In fact, Wisconsin is only one of three state in the country that does not provide any state funding for civil legal services . Florida and Idaho are the other two.
Civil legal aid providers in Wisconsin assist a wide array of low-income clients, including victims of domestic violence, people with disabilities, senior citizens and children. They provide assistance in family law, disability insurance, health insurance, consumer protection, and many other vitally important legal areas.
Civil legal aid agencies also provide essential legal representation for women. For instance, one civil legal aid agency in Wisconsin served 9,772 women clients the previous two years, 2,480 of whom were victims of domestic violence.
The Governor's current proposed budget does not include any restoration of direct state funding for civil legal aid. However, civil legal aid providers are asking for $10 million over the biennium ($5 million per year) for legal services to low-income families and individuals. We will certainly keep on eye on these important efforts and provide relevant updates now that the Joint Committee on Finance is beginning to hold public hearings on the Governor's proposed budget and will likely start voting on specific budget provisions in the relatively near future.