FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQs) FOR ADVOCATES AND ATTORNEYS
What is the National Disaster Legal Aid Advocacy Center and what purpose does it serve?
The National Disaster Legal Aid Advocacy Center is an online resource developed by Pro Bono Net and in partnership with Lone Star Legal Aid to support public interest legal advocates helping communities recover, rebuild and grow resilience in the wake of disasters. The Advocacy Center is a new feature of DisasterLegalAid.org, a national online clearinghouse dedicated to providing comprehensive and timely information on legal issues impacting communities hit by natural disasters. Membership is free and a list of active members can be found by clicking on the Members tab.
I’m a legal aid staff attorney and we are expecting a disaster. Where do I start?
The National Disaster Legal Aid Resource Center, commonly referred to as DisasterLegalAid.org, is a national online clearinghouse dedicated to providing comprehensive and timely information on legal issues impacting communities hit by natural disasters. Key resources include:
- The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act and the Individuals and Households Program Unified Guidance
- Disaster Legal Aid 2018 Roundtable: Introduction to Federal Disaster Benefits and the ABA-YLD Disaster Legal Services Program
- Short, medium, and long-term needs after a disaster
- LSC’s Program Disaster Checklist, a guide to a legal services provider facing a disaster. This checklist will help focus on the most critical areas that will need immediate attention. See LSC’s Disaster Counseling Videos for an overview of common legal issues post-disaster.
- Training materials by topic are available at https://www.disasterlegalaid.org/trainings/ and include resources on general disaster assistance, FEMA appeals, and housing.
You might also want to:
- Take a look at LSC's gallery of maps that provide geographic awareness and information in the mitigation, preparation, and response to disasters. Maps include a Social Vulnerability, Flood Zone, and Disaster Risk lookup.
- Check your own state/territory webpage for disaster resources and trainings that might not yet be on disasterlegalaid.org.
I’m a pro bono attorney in a different location where the disaster occurred and want to help disaster survivors. Where do I start?
To help disaster survivors, the Supreme Court of the state or territory must issue a Katrina Order to let out-of-state attorneys provide legal assistance to individuals. For a list of states and territories that have implemented the rule on the provision of legal services following the determination of a major disaster, click here.
- Familiarize yourself with the short, medium, and long-term needs after a disaster.
- Register online for trainings or events happening to learn more about legal issues in the aftermath of a disaster and pro bono opportunities. For a list of events, visit our calendar by clicking on the Events tab.
- Consider joining the National Disaster Legal Aid Network listserv to get a sense of disaster legal relief discussions by public interest legal advocates and allies. Other disaster-relief listservs are also listed on the Listservs tab.
- Study the presentations, trainings, and resources available at https://www.disasterlegalaid.org/trainings/. Pay special attention to the FEMA Assistance & Appeals section and study FEMA’s Individuals, Households Program Unified Guidance, changing in October 2018 to the IAPPG, Individual Assistance Program and Policy Guide.
- Check the ABA Disaster Legal Services program page here. The ABA will post recruitment forms for volunteer pro bono attorneys to complete if there are opportunities for attorneys to help in federally declared disaster areas. We also post them at https://www.disasterlegalaid.org/volunteer/.
- Stay informed on news related to active disasters, policy, and disaster legal aid response efforts by checking the News tab. You may also want to subscribe to the following newsletters:
- Emergency Management News - Stay updated on public safety, homeland security and emergency management news, strategy and leadership for critical times.
- Lone Star Legal Aid's Environmental Justice News - Subscribe here or text EJUSTICE to 22828.
- The Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies Newsletter - The mission of the Partnership is equal access and full inclusion for the whole community before, during and after disasters.
- Check FEMA news and updates from the disaster area. Each disaster has its own resources and alerts page.
- Visit the ABA’s Annual Celebration of Pro Bono site. This initiative provides an opportunity for legal organizations across the country to collaboratively commemorate the vitally important contributions of America's lawyers and to recruit and train the many additional volunteers required to meet the growing demand.
I am an attorney looking for resources on a specific issue post-disaster. Where can I find more information?
Please visit https://www.disasterlegalaid.org/trainings/ for a list of presentations, trainings, and resources by subject. If the subject you are looking for is not listed here, please contact us and we will do our best to connect you with a person who might point you in the right direction.
You can also post a message to the National Disaster Legal Aid listserv.
I’m not able to attend a disaster legal aid roundtable. Will a recording be made available?
Yes. All roundtable registrants will receive a link to the recording and materials, regardless of attendance. Materials and recordings will also be uploaded to this area under Resources > Roundtable Materials. To gain access, you must first sign up as a member by clicking the “Join Us” link.
I have a topic suggestion for the Disaster Legal Aid roundtables and a content suggestion for the Advocacy Center. Who do I send my suggestion to?
Please send suggestions, comments, or feedback to Jeanne Ortiz.
I am a law student interested in helping disaster survivors. How can I help?
Since Katrina, law students have taken an active role as volunteers in disaster legal response and recovery. The legal clinics across the county have been an integral part in that disaster legal response. There are a couple of things you can do to get involved, including:
- Visit our Law School Resources page for a list of resources and examples of what other law schools have done for disaster response efforts.
- Reach out to the state’s ABA Young Lawyers Division disaster representative to find out about opportunities for law students.
- Click here for a list of opportunities in active disaster areas.
How do I find my client’s denial date and denial reason if they don't have a copy of the denial letter or e-mail?
Call FEMA at 1-800-621-FEMA and ask. You can do this immediately, even before FEMA receives your authorization and release form from your client or before requesting a copy of the file. Alternatively, go to a Disaster Recovery Center and ask for a copy.
OTHER FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
I was affected by a disaster and need legal help. What do I do?
If FEMA has requested the American Bar Association to implement Disaster Legal Services, a legal help hotline will be set up for people in the disaster area. Visit the Active Disaster Quick Links at www.DisasterLegalAid.org for the hotline number and for local legal assistance resources.
Visit https://www.disasterlegalaid.org/legalhelp/ for legal resources and general information on housing, insurance claims, insurance, employment, FEMA appeals, and other vital issues.
You can find free legal resources in your state/territory by visiting LawHelp.org. If you need free legal representation related to a disaster, visit https://www.lsc.gov/, click on FIND LEGAL AID at the top, and enter your zip code for a list of legal aid offices you can call or visit.
Visit Free Legal Answers and select your state to ask a question. Free Legal Answers is a virtual legal advice clinic. Users are emailed when their question receives a response. Attorney volunteers, who must be authorized to provide pro bono assistance in their state, log in to the website, select questions to answer, and provide legal information and advice.
If you received a letter from FEMA saying that you are ineligible for disaster relief or that your application is incomplete, you have the right to appeal the decision. Your ability to appeal is time-sensitive. You only have 60 days from the date on the decision letter to appeal. Visit www.femaappeals.org for an interactive interview tool that will help you create an appeal letter and a file request letter. Check here for Frequently Asked Questions about the appeals process.