Press Release

Welch Leads Bipartisan Effort to Fund Federal Public Defender Program in Upcoming Budget 

May 10, 2024

WASHINGTON, D.C. – This week, Senator Peter Welch (D-Vt.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate’s only former Public Defender, led a bipartisan group of his colleagues in calling on the Senate Appropriations Committee to fully fund the Federal Defender Services program in the upcoming Fiscal Year 2025 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill: 

“In FY24, Defender Services was appropriated $1.45 billion, and in FY25, the Judiciary is requesting $1.69 billion. This essential funding supports the 4,420 attorneys, investigators, paralegals, and support personnel throughout the 82 federal defender organizations serving 92 of 94 judicial districts, as well as the Criminal Justice Act (CJA) contracted panel attorneys who represent indigent individuals when federal defenders are unable to due to conflicts of interest or other reasons. The proposed increase will address inflationary costs, long-deferred necessary upgrades in IT and infrastructure, and additional federal public defenders to account for rising caseloads,” the bipartisan lawmakers wrote. 

“During the FY24 budget cycle, Defender Services narrowly avoided a funding shortfall that would have caused public defender layoffs and deferred payments to CJA panel attorneys. Thankfully, Congress acted to provide sufficient funds to avoid layoffs and end a hiring freeze that had caused a significant number of positions to go unfilled. For FY25, the Judiciary has submitted an appropriate request that should be fully funded this budget cycle.” 

The bipartisan letter was signed by every Senate Judiciary Committee Democrat, including Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), as well as U.S. Senator Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.). Signers include Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.), Laphonza Butler (D-Calif.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Bob Casey, Jr. (D-Pa.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) 

Senator Welch has championed fully funding the Federal Defender Services program. He successfully fought to include additional funding to support the Federal Public Defender program in the appropriations bills for FY2024, which was passed by Congress in late March. This funding helped the Federal Public Defenders avoid layoffs and end a hiring freeze. Shortly after the passage of the funding, he took to the Senate Floor to discuss this critical program. Also in March, Sen. Welch led every Senate Judiciary Democrat in sending a letter to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts urging the office to give appropriate consideration to the funding of the Federal Public Defender program in the Office’s budget request for FY2025, which was ultimately a successful effort.  

Read and download the full letter here