Florida legal aid providers receive $6.1million for natural disaster recovery
The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) has awarded $6.1 million to support the delivery of legal services to low-income Floridians impacted by Hurricanes Ian and Nicole in 2022.
The recipients are Bay Area Legal Services (BALS), Community Legal Services of Mid Florida (CLSMF), Florida Rural Legal Services (FRLS) and Legal Services of North Florida (LSNF). LSC is also awarding CLSMF an additional $252,212 to cover already incurred costs from providing services related to the natural disasters.
BALS, CLSMF, FRLS and LSNF are four of the 14 organizations across the country receiving grants for this purpose. LSC, the largest funder of civil legal aid in the United States, received $20 million of supplemental funding in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023 passed by Congress to support this widespread natural disaster response.
After extreme weather events, victims often require immediate legal assistance to file for FEMA and insurance benefits, deal with landlord/tenant issues, access unemployment, or apply for replacements of important documents needed for education and medical benefits, according to LSC. Legal issues caused by disasters can persist for years. Cases involving FEMA appeals, bankruptcy, public housing, and domestic violence can emerge, and disaster victims are vulnerable to predatory scams and fraud.
“Disaster response involves so much more than physical repairs, as millions of Americans find out each year when their home or family is impacted by one of these devastating events,” said LSC President Ron Flagg. “Legal aid providers are integral in helping low-income families access vital services and resources that set them on the path to recovery.”
All four organizations will deploy this funding to build on their previous work partnering in response to Hurricanes Ian and Nicole. The coalition will include all seven LSC-funded organizations in the state (Coast to Coast Legal Aid of South Florida, Legal Services of Greater Miami, and Three Rivers Legal Services in addition to CLSMF, FRLS, CLSMF, FRLS and LSNF) and contracts with Florida Legal Services, Americans for Immigrant Justice, and other Florida civil legal aid programs. By bringing together the legal aid community with the broader disaster response community, this project will improve outcomes for survivors through increased capacity and coordinated services.
- BALS will use its $1,195,404 grant to build its Disaster Relief Project’s capacity to serve survivors both in Tampa Bay and statewide by hiring additional staff. The organization will add a new pro bono initiative to train volunteers to help disaster survivors, expand direct services to clients and increase community outreach. BALS will also pursue growth of the statewide blue sky Disaster Legal Aid Helpline, and partner with other legal aid providers to strengthen Florida’s disaster response infrastructure.
- With its grant for $1,019,294, CLSMF will support coordinated disaster response across Florida legal aid organizations in several ways. The project’s goal is to establish best practices to better serve survivors through infrastructure improvements and expanding access to legal services. CLSMF will provide a subgrant to Legal Services of Greater Miami to better leverage the Florida Online Intake application for disaster response and also provide small contracts to legal aid firms to provide consulting and evaluation of the initiative.
- LSNF’s $1,409,881 grant will help it support recovery for Floridians who remain where the disaster occurred and those who relocated due to housing and other challenges. Coordination will include a statewide collaborative disaster conference with the entire disaster response community, the development of a statewide legal aid continuity of operations plan, mentoring other legal aid organizations providing legal services to 2022 disaster survivors, and direct provision of civil legal services to those low-income families impacted by 2022 disasters. LSNF will enhance technology to improve client intake when the internet is not available and will broaden the use of its mobile offices to improve access to services for 2022 disaster survivors.
- FRLS’ service area was the most severely impacted by Hurricane Ian. Its grant for $2,494,987 will enable the organization to provide comprehensive legal services to more low-income clients impacted by Hurricane Ian, and also support the training of pro bono attorneys for disaster response. Staff members will educate community members on disaster preparedness.
Rep. Greg Steube, R-Fl, Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fl, Rep. Laurel Lee, R-Fl, and Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fl, commended the organizations on the grants and their vital disaster relief work.
“Hurricane recovery is costly for everyone, but it’s particularly burdensome for low-income Americans,” said Rep. Steube. “Some legal disputes, such as FEMA appeals and construction fraud cases can persist for years. Thanks to LSC’s investment in Florida, Bay Area Legal Services and Florida Rural Legal Services will now be enabled to help more Floridians to fully recover from Hurricane Ian.”
Rep. Castor said Bay Area Legal Services helps Floridians find relief and pathways to justice including in the aftermath of disastrous storms like Hurricane Ian and the struggles to recover.
“This vital support will not only bolster their work but help Floridians access important legal services to repair their livelihoods and recover insurance and housing,” she said.