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Congress Must Appropriate the $35 Million Authorization for Legal Aid for Homeowners Facing Foreclosure

Let me raise an important issue that has received almost no attention in the talk of what to do in the lame duck session.

In the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, the feds authorized $35 million dollars to support legal aid programs, mostly nonprofits, that give assistance to struggling borrowers facing foreclosure. This authorization seemed like a good deal at the time, but wasn’t seen as consequential as it does today. These nonprofits and legal aid programs have been crucial to ferreting out foreclosure fraud. For borrowers already facing financial woes, they simply won’t have representation in the courts if they don’t secure the services of one of these types of legal aid programs.

But here’s the key point: the money was authorized, but not appropriated. The appropriation has still yet to be made. It could be tucked into virtually any bill that comes up in the lame duck session, but that’s probably its last hope. After that, Republicans gain control of the House, and John Boehner doesn’t strike me as a “let’s give money to poor people facing foreclosure so they can have good lawyers” type.

Legal aid foundations and nonprofits are already planning to shut their doors if they don’t get some help from this appropriation. They cannot continue without it. And the Congress has already passed the authorization.

If we’re going to get to the bottom of foreclosure fraud, we need good lawyers able to do the work of stopping the banks’ mad rush. They need to be able to scrutinize the documents, find flaws, question the standing to foreclose, and basically throw sand in the gears of the process. Pro bono lawyers discovered the robo-signing scandal. They have successfully defended homeowners from the rapacious banks. They need to keep going.

This $35 million dollar appropriation MUST be made. Any delay in the matter will disrupt the ability for homeowners to have due process and properly defend themselves. This calls for a “call your Senator” approach. I’ll be doing so to see if this pops up on anyone’s radar screen in the next couple days.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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