Legal services agency considers cuts

Posted: Thursday, November 09, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Alaska Legal Services Corp. is struggling to find the money to keep three of its eight offices open.

Legal Services offices in Dillingham, Barrow and Nome may be shut down in coming weeks due to a lack of funds, Executive Director Robert Hickerson told Alaska Newspapers Inc.

While some offices are facing closure, a new office is to open next month in Kotzebue after the nonprofit Maniilaq Association gave the corporation $197,000 to fund an office for a year.

Alaska Legal Services is a nonprofit organization that helps low-income residents with civil cases, including family law, domestic violence, landlord-tenant issues and consumer finance matters. The service's lawyers do not take criminal cases.

Part of a nationwide organization, Alaska Legal Services opened its doors to Alaskans in the early 1960s. It was developed to help poor and rural residents, Hickerson said.

''It is definitely a much needed service out here,'' said Kay Gorman, the Dillingham office manager. ''I've used it in the past, and I don't know where I would have gone for help had they not been there.''

At its strongest, in 1981, Legal Services had 13 offices across the state. Due to an economic downturn state and federal budget cuts throughout the years, all but eight have closed or sharply limited the services offered.

Most of the corporation's $2.6 million operating budget comes from local municipalities, boroughs, corporate and private donations. Federal money also is available. Last week, the nationwide corporation was awarded $25 million from Congress, about $73,000 of which will likely come to Alaska, Hickerson said. The bill was sent to President Clinton for his approval.

But it's still not enough.

''We're strapped,'' Hickerson said. Alaska Legal Services is still more than $500,000 short of its 2001 proposed budget.

By closing offices in Barrow, Nome and Dillingham, and eliminating two vacant positions in the Anchorage office, the corporation should save about half that, he said.

Local support is coming in, and will keep attorneys working for a while longer. Donations from the Bristol Bay Native Association, Curyung Tribal Council, Arctic Slope Regional Corp. and Kawerak Inc. are among local organizations that have given the agency money.

People won't be left without any help if the offices close, Hickerson said. They can turn to the agency's offices in other cities including Anchorage, Fairbanks and Bethel.

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