Across the country, the neighborhood offices of the Legal Services Corp. - where one out of every two poor Americans is turned down for help because the agency lacks resources - are a far cry from the federal program's headquarters. Documents obtained by The Associated Press detail the luxuries that executives of Legal Services have given themselves with federal money - from $14 "Death by Chocolate" desserts to $400 chauffeured rides to locations within cab distance of their offices.
"I don't think that's right," Taylor said, as he walked from the program's inner city legal clinic in the nation's capital, covering his head with a towel to protect himself from the searing summer heat. "They're depriving some others that really need it and that's not good. ... It's supposed to be about the people."
The government-funded corporation boasts a spacious headquarters in Washington's swank Georgetown district - with views of the Potomac River and a rent significantly higher than other tenants in the same building. And board members wrote themselves a policy that doubled the amount they could claim for meals compared with their staff.
Legal Services is a nonprofit corporation run with federal money that was created by Congress to provide legal help in civil matters for Americans who can't afford their own lawyers. It funds neighborhood clinics across the country where lawyers provide such help. Three congressional committees have questioned the program's spending as has the corporation's own internal watchdog. The chairman of the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee is threatening to withhold future money if the corporation doesn't trim its extravagance. "It's waste and abuse," said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, citing the board's doubling of the meal money as an example. "At 200 percent, it seems to me what we would call in Iowa living high off the hog." ...
The scrutiny of Legal Services' spending comes as the corporation says it doesn't have enough resources to meet many poor clients' needs. Legal Services' own study found last October that for every client who receives service, one applicant is turned away because there are not enough resources to help. Since that study counted only those who contacted the program for assistance, the corporation said it likely underestimated the unmet need.
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