Hurricane Laura (2020)

A toll-free legal aid hotline is now available for those in Louisiana impacted by Hurricane Laura. The service, which provides legal referral information for low income individuals with disaster legal needs, is a partnership between the Louisiana State Bar Association, the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Low-income survivors facing legal issues may call 1-800-310-7029 to learn of the available civil legal resources in their area. The automated hotline is not staffed by individuals, but recorded messages will direct callers to legal resources where they can reach a live contact. The hotline is available 24/7 and callers can leave a message any time.

In addition to the hotline, low-income consumers can also get help through the Louisiana Free Legal Answers, an online pro bono program that is part of ABA Free Legal Answers which allows users to ask civil legal questions that may be answered by volunteer attorneys. 

Referral agencies generally address  disaster legal issues such as:

  • Assistance with securing FEMA and other benefits available to disaster survivors
  • Assistance with life, medical and property insurance claims
  • Help with home repair contracts and contractors
  • Replacement of wills and other important legal documents destroyed in the disaster
  • Assisting in consumer protection matters, remedies and procedures
  • Counseling on mortgage-foreclosure problems
  • Counseling on landlord/tenant problems

Survivors should be aware that there are some limitations on disaster legal services. For example, a caller may not qualify for civil legal aid because they do not meet the income guidelines of the organization. Or, assistance is not available for cases that will produce a fee (i.e., those cases where fees are paid part of the settlement by the court). Individuals with these type cases are referred to the Louisiana State Bar Association’s Find Legal Help page that includes lawyer referral information.

Major Disaster Declaration

On August 28, 2020, FEMA issued a major disaster declaration for Louisiana due to the impact of Hurricane Laura. The declaration applies to the following Louisiana parishes:  Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron, Caddo, La Salle, Jefferson Davis, and St. Landry. The declaration is expected to be expanded to cover more parishes.

People who sustained property damage as a result of Hurricane Laura are urged to register with FEMA, as they may be eligible for federal and state disaster assistance. People can register online at DisasterAssistance.gov or via smartphone or Web-enabled device at m.fema.gov. Applicants may also call 800-621-3362 or 800-462-7585 (TTY) from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week. Flood survivors are also encouraged to call the FEMA hotline to report their damage. Other flooding resources may be found on https://www.lsba.org/dr/

Low-interest disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) are available for eligible applicants. SBA helps businesses of all sizes (including landlords), private nonprofit organizations, homeowners, and renters fund repairs or rebuilding efforts and cover the cost of replacing lost or damaged personal property. Disaster loans cover losses not fully compensated by insurance or other recoveries.

For more information, individuals may contact SBA’s Disaster Assistance Customer Service Center by calling 800-659-2955, emailing disastercustomerservice@sba.gov, or visiting SBA’s website at https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela/. Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals may call 800-877-8339.

For more information on Louisiana’s recovery, visit the disaster Web page at https://www.fema.gov/disaster/4559, Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/femaregion6, and the Louisiana Division of Emergency Management website, http://emergency.louisiana.gov/.

Beware of Fraud

Both FEMA and the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office are warning Louisiana residents 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. Louisianans 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 the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office Consumer Protection Hotline at 800-351-4889.

Background

When the U.S. President declares a major disaster, FEMA, in cooperation with the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division, helps to establish a toll-free number for disaster survivors 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 survivors’ cases. In Louisiana, the partners utilize the hotline offered by the Louisiana State Bar Association, which provides legal information and referrals for civil legal issues. Survivors 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. 

Resources

LSBA Disaster Response: https://www.lsba.org/dr/

Acadiana Legal Services Corporation: http://la-law.org/  

Southeast Louisiana Legal Services: https://slls.org/ Disaster Helpline 1-844-244-7871

Legal Information: https://louisianalawhelp.org/  

Louisiana Free Legal Answers: La.freelegalanswers.org

Free Disaster Legal Tip Line: Text “subscribe” to 318-405-4185

Partner Organizations

The following organizations have joined forces to establish a toll-free phone line for Louisiana storm survivors to request free legal assistance, and to provide volunteer attorneys to handle cases arising from recent storm and flood damage.

Louisiana State Bar Association – The mission of the Louisiana State Bar Association is to assist and serve its members in the practice of law, assure access to and aid in the administration of justice, assist the Supreme Court in the regulation of the practice of law, uphold the honor of the courts and the profession, promote the professional competence of attorneys, increase public understanding of and respect for the law, and encourage collegiality among its members. 

More Resources

American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division: 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 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 American Bar Association, FEMA underwrites the cost of operating toll-free legal assistance lines for survivors in areas designated as federal disaster sites.

National Disaster Legal Aid Online: NDLA is a collaborative effort of Lone Star Legal Aid, the American Bar Association, the Legal Services Corporation, the National Legal Aid and Defender Association and Pro Bono Net.

United Policyholders: UP is a national nonprofit 501(c)(3) consumer advocacy group that specializes in helping disaster survivors with insurance claim issues. UP also trains case managers and legal aid lawyers to assist clients with insurance and disaster recovery matters.