North Penn Legal Services, which is headquartered in Bethlehem and provides free civil legal aid to low income families in Eastern Pennsylvania, has laid off 15 percent of its staff and closed two offices to answer a $1 million budget shortfall.
“Funding has not increased with the need and, although we have been able to maintain services by 'tightening the belt' over the past few years, continual reductions in our federal and state funding from the Legal Services has finally worn us out to the point where we had to make very difficult decisions,” said Victoria Coyle, executive director. “We run a lean operation. At this point there is no way to absorb the funding loss without cutting staff.”
The offices that were closed were in Jim Thorpe and Mansfield.
According to Coyle there were many factors that decreased the service's income. She said at the beginning of the 2012 fiscal year, state funds were reduced by 10 percent and then by another 10 percent in January 2012.
In that same month, federal funds, received through the Legal Services Corp., were reduced by 14 percent.
Also, very low interest rates means that millions of dollars have not been available through the interest on Lawyers' Trust Account funding, a state funding source that has been instrumental in helping to balance funding throughout the state.The layoffs consisted of attorneys, paralegals, support staff, intake workers, and administrators. Coyle said the combined loss of service from the office closings and staff layoffs will be 1,538 fewer cases handled.