Hurricane season is upon us, and with it the devastating effects of such natural disasters that threaten lives and property. Year-round events like flooding, wildfires, earthquakes, and others have been increasing in intensity and threatening people’s safety and livelihood. The American Bar Association provides support to victims of these events and advocates for measures designed to help people prepare for and recover from natural disasters.
Through the Disaster Legal Services Program, the ABA Young Lawyers Division (ABA YLD) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provide immediate temporary legal assistance to disaster survivors at no charge. In addition to providing and coordinating legal services for disaster survivors, the ABA also advocates for more funding for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) so it can serve survivors’ legal needs.
Natural disasters have a particularly devastating effect on low-income people as they struggle to find affordable housing, food, and safety for their families. They are forced to confront new challenges when disasters strike, highlighting their particular vulnerabilities and emphasizing the need for legal assistance. Many Americans, especially those in low-income communities, are unprepared for potential disasters and have not developed a plan for securing important documents, medication, and living arrangements, nor have they planned for alternative ways to access critical resources and information.
In the immediate wake of a disaster or crisis, survivors often need help obtaining copies of important documents such as birth certificates, driver's licenses, and Social Security cards to apply for or restore benefits.
To increase support to low-income survivors and its impact nationwide, LSC is organizing a disaster task force composed of LSC grantees, business leaders, emergency management experts and other stakeholders to take a more comprehensive approach to its disaster work. The goals of the Disaster Task Force include educating the business and emergency management communities about the importance of civil legal aid in preparing for and responding to disasters and partnering with legal aid providers to develop a systematic approach to respond to the legal needs of low-income Americans who have experienced a disaster.
On September 17th, 2019, LSC Board members released their Disaster Task Force Report on Capitol Hill. More information about the Task Force can be found here.
The ABA is also monitoring several disaster related bills being contemplated in Congress including legislation to provide more funding for victims and reform the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).
The NFIP is a federal program, managed by the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) within the Department of Homeland Security. The NFIP will expire on September 30, 2019, unless extended. If the program expires, new flood insurance policies cannot be sold, potentially delaying or cancelling some real estate transactions. The program has been temporarily extended several times as Congress deliberates reforms to the program. NFIP reform legislation has been introduced in the House and Senate. However, disagreements remain not along party lines, but geographic ones, with those from flood-prone areas wanting to strengthen NFIP and those from drier areas wanting to limit or even eliminate the program.
Mindful of the potential links between climate change and the increasing frequency and severity of some natural disasters, the ABA adopted policy during its Annual meeting in August urging policymakers to recognize their obligation to address climate change. See the resolution here.
The Congress is currently deliberating its appropriations bills and the ABA will continue to fight for increased funding for the Legal Services Corporation and its disaster relief efforts. If you would like to join us in this effort, please visit our Grassroots Action Center here.