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Funding saves Logan-Mingo Legal Aid office

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Attorney General Darrell McGraw announced Tuesday that his office has secured $1 million in funding for the beleaguered Legal Aid of West Virginia, which had to lay off 12 case handlers and consider shuttering its Logan and Mingo County office because of budget cuts last year.

McGraw said in an afternoon news conference at the Chief Logan Conference Center in Logan that the $1 million will help keep the office open for the next three years.

The money comes from a small portion of a massive national mortgage settlement that the attorney general's consumer protection division reached earlier this year, which netted more than $33 million for West Virginia consumers affected by foreclosure abuse from large banks.

"In these times of budget cuts and economic hardship, we are happy to be able to help Legal Aid of West Virginia maintain its vital legal services without the use of taxpayer dollars," McGraw said Tuesday.

Legal Aid Development Director Jennifer R. Jordan said the attorney general's office and Legal Aid have agreed to designate a large portion of the $1 million to go toward ramping up Legal Aid's foreclosure services. The money, however, cannot be used to rehire the 12 employees lost in the budget cuts, she said.

"It's a totally different ballgame because we have been not been able to bring back those 12 people that we lost," Jordan said.

A portion of the money will also be used to hire two attorneys to do foreclosure work around the state in collaboration with the attorney general's office, Jordan said. One of the attorneys will be based in Martinsburg, she said.

In December, facing the threat of a government shutdown, Congress passed an emergency spending bill that cut deeply into several areas of the federal government, including the U.S. departments of Justice, Agriculture and Commerce. Congress also slashed the budget of the Legal Services Corp., the funding arm for legal aid programs in each of the 50 states.

The cuts promised to saddle the West Virginia program with a $1.2 million budget deficit over the next two years, and have contributed to a burgeoning effort, led by the state Supreme Court, to push for more Legal Aid funding on the state level.

"Without other funding, like the check we are presenting today, these cuts would severely curtail their ability to offer free, life-changing legal help to those citizens who need it the most," McGraw said.

The Logan-based Legal Aid office has been helping low-income West Virginias find legal help for 30 years. Officials say the office has served more than 5,000 people in the last four years alone.

Reach Zac Taylor at Zachary.Taylor@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.


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