On January 13, House and Senate negotiators unveiled an agreement for funding the federal government for the remainder of FY 2014. As part of that agreement, the federal defender program, which faced devastating cuts in 2013 and expected even greater cuts this year, received a boost in funding well above sequestration levels. This represents the successful culmination of months of advocacy by TCP, federal defenders, private attorneys, and a broad coalition of advocacy organizations.
The $1.044 billion funding level provided to federal defenders should help prevent the need for furloughs, could allow some federal defender offices to hire staff, and should allow reimbursement rates for court-appointed counsel to return to 2013 levels. In the coming weeks, the Judicial Conference—which oversees the federal defender program—will make critical decision about how this funding will be used. The precise impact of this funding depends on those decisions, including how the money will be divided between individual federal defender offices.
While the proposed funding will not make every federal defender office whole again, it puts nearly all federal defenders in a much better position than many feared they would be in only a few months ago. Last summer, federal defenders were bracing for budgets that would be 10-20% below FY 2014 requirements. With yesterday’s announcement, most offices will be operating at closer to 5% below FY 2014 requirements. Given that federal programs across the board have been hit hard (even with the easing of sequestration) the funding federal defender programs receives under this bill reflects an improved understanding by Members of Congress of the need for adequate resources for federal indigent defense.