A toll-free legal aid hotline is now available for victims of Hurricane Sally and the resultant damage in Florida. The service, which allows callers to request the assistance of a lawyer, is a partnership between The Florida Bar, The Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division, the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Low-income survivors facing legal issues may call 866-550-2929, the assistance hotline activated by The Florida Bar and The Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division. Callers should identify that they are seeking storm-related legal assistance, and should identify the county in which they are located and their legal problems. Survivors who qualify for assistance will be matched with Florida lawyers who have volunteered to provide free legal help.
Examples of legal assistance available include:
- Assistance with securing FEMA and other benefits available to disaster survivors o Including advice and counsel prior to applying for FEMA benefits and how to navigate a remote inspection with FEMA
- 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
The hotline is available 24/7 and callers can leave a message at any time. Individuals who qualify for assistance will be matched with Florida lawyers who have volunteered to provide free, limited legal help. 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 fees are paid as part of a settlement or award from a court). Such cases will be referred to a lawyer referral service.
Major Disaster Declaration
On October 2, 2020, FEMA announced a major disaster declaration for Florida, including direct federal individual assistance for Bay, Escambia, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, and Walton counties.
People who have sustained property damage as a result of the severe storms and flooding are urged to register with FEMA, as they may be eligible for federal and state disaster assistance. People can register online at DisasterAssistance.govor 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or visiting SBA’s website at disasterloan.sba.gov. Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals may call 800-877-8339.
Beware of Fraud
Both FEMA and the Florida Attorney General’s Office are warning Florida 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. Floridians 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 Florida Attorney General’s Office Consumer Protection Hotline at 866-966-7226.
The following organizations have joined forces to establish a toll-free phone line for Florida hurricane and flood survivors to request free legal assistance, and to provide volunteer attorneys to handle cases arising from recent Hurricane Sally and the resulting flood damage.
Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division – The purpose of the Young Lawyers Division is to assist The Florida Bar in its purposes, to stimulate and encourage the interest and participation of YLD members in the programs of The Florida Bar, to provide a full and complete program of activities and projects designed to be of interest and assistance to YLD members, and to engage in such activities as shall tend to further the best interests of the legal profession. The section coordinates the activities of YLD members and serves as a medium for fostering discussion and free interchange of ideas relative to the duties, responsibilities and problems of YLD members.