Category Archives: Events

The War on Poverty and Civil Legal Aid: A Historical Perspective: Panel at the NLADA Annual Meeting

Two panels at the 2014 NLADA annual meeting, held in Alexandria, VA, November 12-15, were devoted to discussing the history and legacy of the War on Poverty legal services programs. The panel The War on Poverty and Civil Legal Aid: A Historical Perspective, organized and moderated by Alan Houseman, brought together three icons of the legal services movement – Earl Johnson, Jr., Edgar Cahn, and Clint Lyons, as well as a representative of a younger generation of legal services advocates, Nalani Fufimori Kaina, Executive Director, Legal Aid Services of Hawaii.

Earl Johnson, Jr., provided an overview of the history of legal services from the nineteenth century, to the creation and development of the OEO-Legal Services Program, to the establishment of the LSC ten year later, until today.

Slide from Earl Johnson's powerpoint presentation, Nov. 14, 2014.

Slide from Earl Johnson’s powerpoint presentation, Nov. 14, 2014.

Johnson ended his presentation with two provocative questions: In 1976, Tom Ehrlich, the first president of the LSC, said in his testimony to the House appropriations committee: “Legal assistance for the poor is no longer part of a war on poverty. Rather that assistance is established as a basic right of citizenship.”

“First, has legal assistance been ‘established as a basic right of citizenship’ in the succeeding nearly four decades?” asked Johnson? “Second, while there no longer is a coordinated “war on poverty” to be a part of, has legal services entirely abandoned its anti-poverty mission and effect during that span?” Johnson answered both questions with a “reluctant no,” and highlighted that we have a long way to until right to counsel will be established as a basic right of citizenship. We are, however, “at least on the road,” he said. To the second question, Johnson emphasized that anti-poverty work remains an important part of the mission of legal services, but that the issues are being framed very differently today than they were during the early days of the OEO-LSP. Today’s emphasis tends to be much more on the means rather than on the ends — what legal tools will legal services lawyers be allowed to employ, what does access to justice mean, and how can the vision of equal access to justice be implemented?

Johnson also shared some information on recent ABA right to counsel initiatives, including the Directory of Law Governing Appointment of Counsel in State Civil  Proceedings, recently released by the ABA in cooperation with the NCCRC.

Edgar Cahn highlighted that the “war on poverty was a way of responding to the racial divide and to the civil rights movement” – it was a way to channel that energy and the tensions into government-supported reform programs. Cahn recalled the segregation of the legal profession at the time, and the importance of the legal services program as a vehicle for young African American lawyers to apprentice as legal professionals. Cahn also reminded the audience that the vision to “amplify the voices” of the poor was a critical component of the war on poverty, a vision that he and Jean Cahn initially outlined in their article The War on Poverty: A Civilian Perspective 73 Yale L.J. 1317 (1964).

Clint Lyons, inspired by the civil rights movement, began his career in legal services as a Reginald Heber Smith fellow working in Essex County, NJ. Lyons recalled the rampant urban poverty he saw in Newark, NJ, and the rural poverty he was confronted with when he served as deputy director for the regional office in Atlanta in the Office of Legal Services, where he oversaw the expansion of the southeast region. The anti-poverty impact of legal services has been immeasurable, he emphasized.

Nalani Fufimori Kaina highlighted the importance of the history of legal services for today’s generation of legal services advocates. Especially the Reggies had a huge impact, and helped create a body of law that made a difference in the lives of poor people. Once the Reggie program was cut during the Reagan administration, there was a loss of law reform work because there was no longer a body of people who were doing the work. There always was and continues to be tension between those people who are working on the front lines, and those who are doing law reform work, she observed. The ability to do law reform work depends on ability to provide basic legal services. Many legal services attorneys would love to work on law reform, but are pulled in so many directions, and overwhelmed with work to meet basic legal services needs that they don’t have any time and resources left to do more strategic work. This strategic work, however, continues to be critical, and younger generations of anti-poverty advocates need to play an active role in shaping it.

Katharina Hering

Happening now: The New Prosperity Law: Expanding Opportunity and Reducing Inequality – 50 Years After the War on Poverty

TheNewProsperityLawWebbannerThe New Prosperity Law: Expanding Opportunity and Reducing Inequality – 50 Years After the War on Poverty is held at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, Oct. 16-17th, 2014.

“This year marks the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, which is an important time to reflect on the role that law schools and lawyers have played, and can continue to play, in efforts to reduce inequality and expand opportunity. In the War on Poverty, law schools and lawyers were central actors in a coordinated strategy to end poverty by establishing constitutional protections and substantive rights for the poor. Within a decade of its inception, however, the substantive antipoverty movement gave way to a procedural access to justice agenda. Political battles over resources for legal services were at the heart of this shift, reflecting larger trends of decentralization (from federal to state) and privatization (from the government to the market). As a result, legal antipoverty efforts today are much more local, varied and diffuse than during the War on Poverty.   This symposium will examine lessons from the last fifty years, consider emerging anti-poverty efforts, explore shifts in the funding landscape and identify strategies to reinvigorate the role of law schools and lawyers in a new antipoverty agenda.”

Details and the agenda can be found on the conference website:


Report on Hamline University’s War on Poverty Week

By Marie Failinger

As part of the national commemoration of the War on Poverty, Hamline University held its War on Poverty Week from September 8-12, 2014. In addition to library displays at the law school and college libraries on the War on Poverty, the Law School and Social Justice Program of the College of Liberal Arts hosted three speakers.

Former USDA Undersecretary Bud Philbrook traced the history of government food programs such as WIC and Food Stamps, and discussed current efforts by governments and NGOs around the world to focus on providing comprehensive medical care, nutrition and education services to pregnant women and small children during the first few years of life, when children gain virtually all of their IQ points. Without these assets, children become stunted, which has tragic effects on their ability to learn and participate as productive citizens.   His presentation can be viewed at this Blackboard link:

Sociologist Ryan LeCount discussed the racialized history of the War on Poverty welfare programs, and the use of racial stereotypes against political candidates in the last decades of presidential elections.   He presented studies showing how historical and current attitudes toward welfare have been shaped by images of women of color, particularly African American women, as unwilling to work; and how these images have also made an impact on welfare policy, including discriminatory targeting of African Americans for welfare sanctions. LeCount also discussed the documented ways in which this discriminatory administration of welfare programs has resulted in worse life outcomes for targeted welfare recipients, including their low level of civic engagement.  His presentation can be viewed at this Blackboard link:

Health law professor Laura Hermer traced the history of medical assistance programs in the United States, discussed the changes made by the Affordable Care Act in these programs, and discussed projections for health care coverage among the poor and prospects for health care programs in the future.

Poverty and Place Conference, November 13-14, 2014, UC Davis

povertyandplace_0In November 2014, the Center for Poverty Research will host the conference “Poverty and Place,” which focuses on the implications of geography and population density have for poverty.

This conference brings together a unique mix of researchers, policy professionals and industry leaders to discuss their work studying the people, geography, and the safety net as it relates to persistent poverty.

When: Thursday, November 13, 2014 – Friday, November 14, 2014

Where: Memorial Union, MU II Room UC Davis Campus

More information at the Poverty and Place conference website.

Upcoming Events: Hamline University’s War on Poverty Week

Hamline University will be hosting a War on Poverty Week next week (week of September 7, 2014), which will be open to the entire university and to the general public. It will be webcast and will include three lectures and War on Poverty displays in both law and undergraduate libraries.

Hamline lectures:   Former USDA deputy undersecretary of agriculture Bud Philbrook will speak on international recognition of the right to adequate nutrition and health care.  Hamline Law faculty and network member Laura Hermer will provide a historical review and  legal assessment of the major health programs for the poor including the Kerr-Mills Act, Medicaid and the ACA expansions. Hamline sociologist Ryan LeCount will discuss the racialization of welfare policies in poverty programs in the last quarter-century.

More information and links to the webcast will be posted next week.

Annual convention of the Community Action Partnership in DC, Aug. 19-22

50-yrs-logoAugust 19-22, 2014: The Community Action Partnership will hold its annual convention to coincide with its 50th anniversary as part of the War on Poverty. Community Action Agencies—which help low income people and families in rural, urban, and suburban communities achieve economic stability—are nonprofit private and public organizations established under the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. The event will be held at the Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, D.C. Click here for more information.