A lack of funding from state and federal sources has caused North Penn Legal Services, a regional nonprofit organization that assists low-income households with legal aid, to scale down its operations in its service area.
The organization recently closed its Mansfield office in Tioga County and another office in Jim Thorpe, Carbon County. Locally, one staff attorney, an intake worker and an AmeriCorps worker who served as a receptionist, were laid off at the Williamsport office at 329 Market St., according to Alison L. Norton, a spokeswoman for NPLS.
Those who used the Mansfield office now must travel to an office in Towanda or Williamsport for assistance.
Overall, an almost $1 million budget shortfall resulted in the elimination of 12 staff members within the organization, ranging from attorneys, paralegals, support staff and administrators, Norton said.
Victoria Croyle, executive director of NPLS, said the cuts come at a time when more low-income individuals rely on free legal aid because of hard economic conditions and high unemployment.
"Funding has not been increased with the need and, although we have been able to maintain services by tightening the belt over the past few years, continual reductions in our federal and state funding from the legal services has finally worn us out to the point where we had to make very difficult decisions," Croyle said.
According to NPLS, state funding was slashed by 20 percent in the previous year, while federal funding was cut by 14 percent.
The result means fewer people may access the free legal services provided by the organization, say Croyle and Norton.
"Unfortunately, low-income people face a barrier in their efforts to access justice," Croyle said. "These days, that barrier increases at a rate neither NPLS or our clients can overcome."
J. Michael Wiley, president of the Lycoming Law Association, the organization that represents the local law community, said its members will try to bridge the gap for those needing legal assistance.
"Lycoming Law Association and its members have been strong supporters of the work of NPLS both financially and through volunteer pro bono services," he said. "NPLS provides valuable services to our community and despite the budget realities it is presently facing, I am certain Lycoming Law Association members will continue to step up and assist NPLS as much as they are able to make sure those in need in Lycoming County receive proper legal representation."
Norton said there have been more inquiries to the Williamsport office.
"We have seen an increase in the number of calls since our Mansfield office closed. However, it's too early for us to put a number on it," Norton said.
North Penn Legal Services also has regional offices in Bloomsburg and Sunbury.