Branches of the National Banks of Central Texas will now be doing their part to support legal aid for low-income residents as part of the Texas Access to Justice Foundation’s Prime Partner Bank program.

The banks, which have eight full-service locations between Waco and Lampasas, will participate in the Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts program, in which they pay 1 percent interest on funds in the trust accounts of lawyers.

“The federal fund target rate is between zero and 0.25 percent,” said Betty Torres, executive director of the Texas Access to Justice Foundation. “By paying 1 percent, they’re paying over 100 times more than some banks in interest.”

When interest rates fell in 2007, the Texas Access to Justice foundation lost substantial funding, down from $20 million to about $4.4 million across the state, Torres said.

“By making the choice to pay higher interest rates on IOLTA accounts, The National and our other Prime Partners help ensure that low-income Texans will have access to basic civil legal services,” Richard L. Tate, chair of the board of directors for the Texas Access to Justice Foundation, said in a statement.

National and statewide statistics, according to Torres, say that only about a quarter of the legal needs of the poor are being met by civil legal aid.

“The (Texas Access to Justice) Foundation was created by the Supreme Court of Texas specifically to administer those funds and this IOLTA program,” Torres said. “These banks are making a huge difference to provide legal funding in the state. It’s a great partnership.”

About 500 banks participate in the IOLTA program, Torres said, about 70 of which are Prime Partners.

“It makes a substantial difference,” she said. “Our income would be substantially less without these Prime Partners.”

Contact Audrey Spencer at aspencer@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7476

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