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Westchester County Budget Hearing 12.9.20

Legal Services of the Hudson Valley

2020 Westchester County Budget Public Input Session, 12/9/20

My name is Rachel Halperin and I am the Chief Program Officer and incoming CEO at Legal Services of the Hudson Valley or LSHV.  LSHV is the only provider in the Hudson Valley of free, comprehensive, legal services in civil matters for individuals and families who cannot afford an attorney when their basic human needs are at stake.  I would like to thank the Board of Legislators and the County Executive for increasing funding for civil legal services – including representing tenants in eviction proceedings; helping domestic violence victims obtain orders of protection, custody and child support so they can keep themselves and their children safe; assisting senior citizens with advanced planning; and other civil legal issues.  Government budgets reflect a community’s priorities – and Westchester’s 2021 budget is a clear reflection that our County government understands the struggles of low-income residents and how they have been exacerbated by this terrible pandemic.  We are grateful to have steady leadership that understands now is not the time to make cuts to these essential services.

In 2019, in Westchester LSHV handled 6,615 cases, which impacted a total of 15,300 household members. 

Civil legal services are vital in a just society.  In more than 70% of civil cases today, people who can’t afford legal representation end up going to court alone – and many lose everything.  That means families become homeless.  Domestic violence survivors cannot get away from their abusers.  Disabled individuals can’t afford the basic necessities of life.  Children who become homeless are typically set back six months or more in their education.  Communities endure enormous costs in the form of providing shelter, increased social services, and other emergency services.

Investing in civil legal services is not only a moral imperative, but is also good fiscal policy.  Overall in 2019, LSHV saved Westchester taxpayers over $29 MILLION – which includes the eviction prevention cost savings along with cost savings from assisting residents in obtaining federal benefits and securing orders of protection on behalf of victims of domestic violence.

As we look ahead to 2021, Legal Services of the Hudson Valley is committed to continuing our collaboration with the County and other community stakeholders to support the most vulnerable among us.  We will work together to keep Westchester thriving – ensuring that low income residents at risk are given access to justice.  We also wanted to thank the Westchester Women’s Agenda for its tireless advocacy on behalf for non-profit funding for essential services.  We are grateful to the County’s long-standing support of civil legal services.  Thank you.