There’s been some collateral damage from the Federal Reserve’s slashing of interest rates: legal aid societies. These groups, which aim to help the poor in civil cases, such as unemployment or foreclosure disputes, have long relied on little-known programs to draw interest from short-term deposits from clients. With the Fed rate near zero, they’re scaling back, even as demand for their services soars.
“We are watching the interest rates with a sense of horror,” said the director of a Connecticut group. Even in good times, many agencies had to turn away qualified applicants. Now, according to one New York attorney, it’s like “a MASH unit in a war zone.” Federal money is available, but it comes with strings attached. Groups taking it can't work on class-action cases, or anything related to immigration, abortion, and other contentious issues.