Alaska Legal Services Corporation (ALSC) is a statewide, nonprofit law firm that has been providing free civil legal aid to Alaskans in need since we opened our doors in 1967. ALSC has 12 regionally-located offices spread throughout our vast state, including the Kenai office, which provides services for Homer.
Our core purpose of ensuring access and fairness in the justice system is a fundamental American value. We believe, like our founding fathers did, in justice for all, not just for the few who can afford it. The effectiveness and efficiency of the services we provide to the community is well-documented, and the community demand for our help is overwhelming.
Last year, when many faced the most challenging year of their lives, we helped over 7,000 Alaskans living in 205 different communities navigate a complex legal crisis that impacted their family safety, housing, health or financial stability. We are also the largest provider for civil legal help to survivors of domestic violence, crime victims, seniors and many others who are struggling just to get basic legal help in tough times.
We have an 86% success rate, and a recent study showed that for every dollar invested in our program, we save state and local governments $5. Decades worth of studies have found that providing civil legal help to a survivor of domestic violence is the most effective intervention. This help can include getting protective orders against abusers, family custody matters, and securing other resources to meet basic needs.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s recent op-ed stated that “every time you hear someone decrying the ‘devastating cuts’ or ‘slashes,’ they’re either misinformed, or more likely, they’re being dishonest to score political points.”
Those are hurtful words to those of us who have been diligently serving our community and have been vetoed.
I am incredibly proud of the work we do at ALSC, but the heartbreaking reality is that every day we are forced to turn away one person for each one that we can help. We do not turn them away because their cases lack merit or because there aren’t laws that would protect them. Instead, we turn them away because we simply don’t have the resources to help everyone who needs us.
The Governor’s veto of $400,000, 62% of our state appropriation, slashed it to its lowest point since 2010. This means that we will now turn away an additional 818 Alaskans who need our help. Of those denied help, 78 will be veterans or service members, 237 will be survivors of domestic violence, 269 will be crime victims and 245 will be seniors.
Yes, this is a “devastating cut,” and yes, our state budget has been “slashed.” But no, we are not misinformed, dishonest or looking to score political points. We are simply stating the truth. Vetoing these funds will have real consequences for real Alaskans. In a state with the highest rates of domestic violence and sexual assault, what is the point of cutting funds for a program that is cost-efficient and effective and of which there is already a shortfall?
These cuts will be felt by the “mother of three” and the 237 like her who won’t be able to escape their abuser. It will be felt by “the senior trying to make ends meet” and the 245 others like him who risk losing their home to illegal eviction or foreclosure.
These are real cuts that will hurt real Alaskans. We know because they ask us to help them every day. If the Governor is interested in meeting real Alaskans who will be hurt by these cuts, we would welcome the conversation.
Nikole Nelson is the Executive Director of Alaska Legal Services Corporation, she has worked for ALSC since graduating from law school almost 25 years ago.