Tax Credit for Justice
In Arizona, a single
taxpayer can donate
$200 and receive a
dollar-for-dollar tax credit
to qualifying charitable
a combination of ( 1) increased tax revenue
(because the recipient has, with legal assistance, kept a job or secured employment, or
has kept their house and is paying property taxes) and/or ( 2) decreased community
funding for government assistance in the
form of housing and health care.
As noted above, civil legal-aid resources
are in short supply in Arizona. The major
funding for these services comes from
two main sources. First, the Legal Services
Corporation, created in 1974 by President
Richard Nixon, is funded annually by Congress. Current funding, however, sits at the
equivalent of 1980s levels. The second main
source is interest on lawyer trust accounts
(“IOLTA”). In 2009, Arizona lawyer trust
accounts were generating around $225,000
per month in income devoted to legal aid;
however, for the last several years, with the
Federal Reserve interest rate at zero, that income stream is $40,000 per month.
You can help. In Arizona, a single taxpayer can donate $200 and receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit to qualifying charitable
organizations. Those filing jointly can donate
$400 and receive the same dollar-for-dollar
Because it is a credit on your taxes, it
costs you literally “nothing.” This credit is
also separate and in addition to tax credits
available for donations to schools. It costs
nothing but provides between $1,400 and
$2,800 worth of benefits to Arizona’s working poor. It is a no-brainer.
Please join me in helping to solve this
crisis. Your donations need to be made
by December 31 and can be made online
and with a credit card at www.AZFLSE.org/
The author thanks Hon. Lawrence F. Winthrop for his generous assistance in putting
together materials for this article. The views
expressed here are those of the author alone,
however, and are not intended to reflect the
views of the State Bar of Arizona or any other
person or entity.
How can you help Arizona without it costing you a
penny? Let me tell you.
Arizona leads the nation in poverty. Almost one in five families live at
or below the federal poverty level of $10,400 per person or $24,000 for
a family of four.
We narrowly beat Mississippi
and New Mexico for the “top”
So where are these poor people? They— 18 percent of our population—are clearly not all standing alongside an overpass with a
sign; so where are they?
They are working poor. They
clean kitchens and toilets. They
make beds in hotels, and they care
for the sick in hospitals. Many work
for some of our state’s largest
employers, many are veterans who
fought for our country, and many
are young and female. But most—
the vast majority—work every day.
Not surprisingly, people who
can barely afford the necessities of
life cannot afford traditional legal
services. This does not mean they
do not have urgent and significant legal needs: housing, employment,
health care, denial of benefits, domestic relations issues (including domestic violence) and consumer issues are among them.
Civil legal aid is provided in Arizona by 75 lawyers scattered around
the state, working for Community Legal Services, Southern Arizona Legal Aid, and DNA–People’s Legal Services. Unfortunately, the resources
available cannot keep up with the demand. For every three individuals
who even understand they have a legal problem and know about these
legal-aid entities, two are turned away because there are not
enough legal-aid lawyers to meet that demand.
Because of their income, approximately 15 percent of our
population are eligible for civil legal-aid assistance—assuming
it were available. The balance of the population, about 85 percent, either cannot afford a lawyer or are choosing to represent themselves in court. In Arizona’s family courts, more than
80 percent of the cases have one or both litigants representing themselves. Think about what that means just in Maricopa
County; last year, there were more than 56,000 filings in family
court. In housing court, just about 100 percent of the tenants
are forced to represent themselves.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
For every dollar invested in civil legal aid, there is a return to
the community of almost seven dollars. This return represents
“Most poor people are not on welfare. … They catch the early bus. They work every day.”
—Rev. Jesse Jackson