Legal Services Corporation (LSC) announced last week that it has awarded a $333,333 grant to Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS) to expand and enhance outreach services for its Education Law Advocacy Project.

LSC is the largest funder of civil legal aid in the United States, explained Vice President Lynn Jennings. Although registered as a 501(c)(3) organization, LSC is largely funded through an annual appropriation from the U.S. Congress.

One of LSC's special projects is the Midwest Legal Disaster Coordination Project, which is funded by private donors.

"When disaster strikes, there a lot of civil legal issues that come about," Jennings said.

Most often, those civil law issues include things like FEMA requests and eviction disputes, but the COVID-19 disaster has raised unique needs, such as a spike in unemployment insurance applications.

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Knowing that needs would arise during the pandemic, longtime donor Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies asked LSC how it could help. Cargill provided $1 million, which LSC split equally between three Midwest legal services groups — including SMRLS — after a competition among different proposals.

SMRLS's proposal stated that it would like to use funds to inform parents about their children's educational rights and assist them in getting access to needed services.

SMRLS intends to use the funds specifically to benefit low-income and Limited English Proficiency students, who have been disproportionately affected by distance learning due to the increased likelihood that strong internet connectivity and digital proficiency would be lacking.

Bilingual outreach coordinators will target various cultural and language groups and help parents understand what their kids are legally entitled to. If they find an unmet need, coordinators will then help parents navigate the system to advocate for their kids.

"We're very excited for this project," Jennings said.

The $333,333 will be distributed over a period of 18 months, with the first installment going out soon.