ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York needs a dedicated stream of funding to help fill the "catastrophic lack" of legal services for the poor, despite recent judicial efforts and volunteer work by lawyers that have helped, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Thursday.

Many New Yorkers face essential matters like child custody, keeping their homes, access to health care, public benefits and immigration status without lawyers, Schneiderman said. At a hearing in Albany, he noted that related federal funding from the Legal Services Corp. peaked in 1979 and has been effectively cut 60 percent since, while state funding is fragmented and court data show 2.3 million people unrepresented in civil proceedings annually in New York.

"We also know that without access to legal representation, equal justice under the law is just an empty slogan," Schneiderman said. While the right to counsel has been established in criminal courts, despite flaws in that system, no one loses their liberty without at least some access to an attorney, he said.

New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, who has held similar hearings the past two years, plans to present his findings to state lawmakers. Before the hearing, he said that at best, pro bono work, grants and legal aid services are now meeting 20 percent of the chronic need.

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