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LSC TIG Program Funds Lone Start Legal Aid to Revamp DisasterLegalAid.org

Thursday, October 18, 2012

  • Organization: Lone Star Legal Aid

The lessons that Lone Star Legal Aid learned from responding to Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Ike—and a myriad of other natural disasters as well as the BP oil spill—will now be used to help improve disaster response and recovery services nationwide.  Lone Star Legal Aid (LSLA) has just been selected to lead a revamp of the National Disaster Legal Aid website, which provides critical guidance on legal issues to disaster victims as well as to volunteers and attorneys assisting with recovery efforts. 

The selection of LSLA by the Legal Services Corporation (www.LSC.gov) is a nod to the work that Lone Star did in serving nearly 18,500 hurricane survivors in recent years.  From floods to wildfires, disasters are common in the 72 Southeast and East Texas counties that comprise LSLA’s service area.  Following a disaster, LSLA attorneys represent survivors in replacing vital legal documents, in documenting eligibility for insurance claims and FEMA assistance, and in negotiating problems with repair contractors, among other types of problems. 

“Lone Star Legal Aid has a strong history of serving disaster survivors.  Our attorneys have seen it all, representing victims in legal actions in the wake of hurricanes, flooding, oil spills and wildfires,” says CEO Paul Furrh, Jr.  “We are eager to put that hard-won expertise to work on a national level to improve the website and add new technology that puts important information right in the hands of survivors.  The National Disaster Legal Aid website is an important national resource, and Lone Star is proud to take leadership of the project.”

LSLA will head a coalition comprised of the American Bar Association’s Center for Pro Bono (www.AmericanBar.org), the Texas Legal Services Center (www.tslc.org), National Legal Aid and Defender Association (www.nlada.org) and Pro Bono Net (www.probono.net) in retooling and enhancing the website, which was originally conceived after Hurricane Katrina.  A $130,000 Technology Initiative Grant from the Legal Services Corporation will support a redesign of the site, with expanded content and formatting to work on mobile devices even when no mobile internet service is available.

“With deadly hurricanes on the coast, ravaging wildfires, and tornadoes that annually hit our communities,” noted Randy Chapman, TLSC’s Executive Director, “Seniors and other vulnerable residents need timely information about sources for emergency help.  Through this technology, legal- aid programs are able to get that information quickly to those who are in crisis situations.”

The selection of Lone Star is testament to the agency’s status as a leading authority on the evolving needs of disaster-affected clients and on navigating the relief system in the most effective manner possible. As Furrh points out, LSLA’s expertise in disaster relief is varied and considerable, ranging from natural disasters such as hurricanes and tornadoes to man-made disasters such as oil spills and wildfires.  With a permanent disaster relief team in place, LSLA has operated hurricane hotlines and mobile offices at Disaster Recovery Centers; conducted hundreds of free legal clinics; worked with state agencies to implement emergency policies that expedited food stamps for hurricane victims struggling with eligibility documentation; obtained federal disaster designations for both Sabine and San Augustine counties after Hurricane Rita, giving local citizens immediate access to emergency services and vital supplies, as well as the ability to apply for FEMA cash assistance, repair loans, and other help; stopped evictions and prevented homelessness for hundreds of hurricane survivors after FEMA cut off rental assistance payments to landlords and survivors; and represented homeowners who have fallen victim to hurricane-related home repair scams by contractors who received payment but whose repair work was of little or no significant value. 

Lone Star Legal Aid (www.LoneStarLegal.org) is the fourth largest provider of free legal aid in the United States. Headquartered in Houston with offices in Angleton, Beaumont, Galveston, and nine other cities across Southeast and East Texas, LSLA serves a 60,000 square-mile swath of Texas from Lampassas to the Louisiana state line, from Matagorda Bay to Texarkana..  LSLA is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that protects and advances the civil legal rights of low-income Texans by providing advocacy, legal representation and community education to ensure equal access to justice.

The Legal Services Corporation (www.LSC.gov) was established by Congress in 1974 to provide equal access to justice and to ensure the delivery of high-quality civil legal assistance to low-income Americans. LSC currently provides funding to 134 independent nonprofit legal aid programs—including Lone Star Legal Aid—in every state, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories.  The LSC Technology Initiative Grant (TIG) program emerged from the combination of a longstanding need to provide some assistance to the large percentage of persons who LSC funded programs cannot fully represent and a new resource—the communication and information capacities produced by the technological revolution. This year LSC will fund nearly $3.4 million in projects that leverage technology to meet the legal needs of low-income Americans.  The full list of 2012 TIG awards can be found on LSC’s website here.

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