The State Bar of Texas, the American Bar Association, and FEMA partner to help bring legal assistance to Texas residents
AUSTIN, December 16, 2015 — Following the recent flooding and severe weather in Texas, the State Bar of Texas, the American Bar Association (ABA), and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have partnered to help provide free legal assistance to individuals affected by the storms. A toll-free legal hotline (800-504-7030) is available to connect low-income individuals affected by the disaster with local legal aid providers who can help with:
· Assistance securing FEMA and other government benefits available to disaster victims;
· Assistance with life, medical, and property insurance claims;
· Help with home repair contracts and contractors;
· Replacement of wills and other important legal documents lost or destroyed in the disaster;
· Consumer protection issues such as price-gouging and avoiding contractor scams in the rebuilding process;
· Counseling on mortgage-foreclosure problems; and
· Counseling on landlord-tenant problems
The hotline is available 24/7 and callers can leave a message any time. Individuals who qualify for assistance will be matched with Texas lawyers who have volunteered to provide free, limited legal help.
Major Disaster Declaration
On November 25, 2015, President Barack Obama issued a major disaster declaration for Texas. As a result, federal disaster aid was made available to the State of Texas. FEMA ordered federal aid to supplement state, tribal, and local recovery efforts in the areas affected by severe storms, tornadoes, straight-line winds, and flooding during the period beginning October 22 – 31, 2015. To date, federal assistance has been extended to 16 Texas counties, including Bastrop, Brazoria, Caldwell, Comal, Cameron, Galveston, Guadalupe, Hardin, Harris, Hays, Hidalgo, Liberty, Navarro, Travis, Willacy, and Wilson counties. Likewise, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also issued an emergency proclamation on November 20, 2015, declaring a state of disaster in these same Texas counties.
Texans who sustained property damage as a result of the ongoing severe storms and flooding are urged to register with FEMA, as they may be eligible for federal and state disaster assistance. People who sustained storm damage in the affected counties above can register for FEMA assistance online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov or via smartphone or Web-enabled device at m.fema.gov. Applicants may also call 800-621-3362 or (TTY) 1-800-462-7585 (TTY) from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Flood survivors statewide are also encouraged to call this hotline to report their damage. Other flooding resources may be found on the State Bar of Texas website at: texasbar.com/floodresponse.
Beware of Fraud
Both FEMA and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton are warning Texans of the risk of fraud and common scams in the wake of the severe weather. Common post-disaster fraud practices include phony housing inspectors, fraudulent building contractors, bogus pleas for disaster donations, and fake offers of state or federal aid. Texans are urged to ask questions, and to require identification when someone claims to represent a government agency.
Survivors should also keep in mind that state and federal workers never ask for or accept money, and always carry identification badges with a photograph. There is no fee required to apply for or to receive disaster assistance from FEMA, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), or the state. Additionally, no state or federal government disaster assistance agency will call to ask for your financial account information. Unless you place a call to the agency yourself, you should not provide personal information over the phone as it can lead to identity theft.
Those who suspect fraud can call the FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 (toll free). Complaints may also be made to local law enforcement agencies.
When the president declares a major disaster, FEMA, in cooperation with the State Bar of Texas and the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division (ABA YLD), establishes a toll-free number for disaster victims to request legal assistance. Funding for the toll-free line comes from FEMA under the authority of Section 415 of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (Public Law 100-707). The American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division in turn partners with state bar associations and other legal organizations to recruit volunteer lawyers in affected areas to handle victims’ cases. Victims should be aware that there are some limitations on disaster legal services. For example, assistance is not available for cases that will produce a fee (i.e., those cases where attorneys are paid part of the settlement by the court). Such cases are referred to a local lawyer referral service.
The following organizations have joined forces to establish a toll-free phone line for Texas disaster victims to request free legal assistance and to provide volunteer attorneys to handle cases arising from the recent severe weather:
State Bar of Texas (texasbar.com) - The State Bar of Texas is responsible for assisting the Texas Supreme Court in overseeing all attorneys licensed to practice law in Texas. With nearly 97,000 members, it is the second-largest state bar organization in the United States based on active members. The mission of the State Bar of Texas is to support the administration of the legal system, assure all citizens equal access to justice, foster high standards of ethical conduct for lawyers, enable its members to better serve their clients and the public, educate the public about the rule of law, and promote diversity in the administration of justice and the practice of law.
American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division (americanbar.org) - The ABA YLD, the largest national organization of young lawyers, provides leadership in serving the public and the profession, and promotes excellence and fulfillment in the practice of law. Its parent organization, the ABA, is the national voice of the legal profession and the largest voluntary professional membership group in the world.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (fema.gov) - FEMA coordinates the federal government’s role in preparing for, preventing, mitigating the effects of, responding to, and recovering from all domestic disasters—whether natural or man-made—including acts of terror. Through an agreement with the ABA, FEMA underwrites the cost of operating toll-free legal assistance lines for victims in areas designated as federal disaster sites.
Other legal organizations assisting with disaster relief efforts include the Austin Bar Association (austinbar.org), the Hays County Bar Association (haysbar.com), the Hidalgo County Bar Association (hidalgobar.org), the Jefferson County Bar Association (www.jcba.org), the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas (austinlrs.com), Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (trla.org), Lone Star Legal Aid (lonestarlegal.org), the Texas Consumer Complaint Center at the University of Houston Law Center (texasccc.com, or 877-839-8422), and the American Red Cross (877-500-8645).