Texas Winter Storm 2021

The State Bar of Texas, the American Bar Association, and legal aid providers across the state remind Texans that a toll-free legal assistance hotline is available to low-income individuals and families affected by the Texas winter storm that began February 11.

The hotline—800-504-7030—is available in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese and connects low-income individuals affected by the disaster with local legal aid providers. 

Callers to the hotline can leave a message at any time. Individuals who qualify for assistance will be matched with Texas lawyers who have volunteered to provide free, limited legal help. Callers should be aware 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.

Major Disaster Declarations 

President Joseph R. Biden issued federal disaster declarations for 108 Texas counties, making federal funding available to individuals and businesses who suffered damages in the storm. The assistance includes grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster.

Texans who suffered losses as a result of the storm are urged to register with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), as they may be eligible assistance. People can register online at DisasterAssistance.gov or via smartphone or web-enabled device at fema.gov. Applicants may also call 800-621-3362 or 800-462-7585 (TTY).  

Online Resources 

The Texas Legal Services Center has created a webpage of resources at texaslawhelp.org. Look for a button at the top for Winter Storm Uri. Online winter storm resources also may be found on the State Bar of Texas website at texasbar.com/winterstorm

Barratry or Improper Solicitation 

The State Bar of Texas reminds the public that in many cases it is a crime in Texas for a lawyer or someone representing a lawyer to contact a person for purposes of legal representation if the person has not first requested the call or personal visit. The contact is not illegal if the attorney is not seeking payment or has a preexisting professional-client or family relationship with the person being contacted. 

If you witness something you believe to be improper solicitation, or barratry, please get the name and phone number of the person making contact and report it to your local law enforcement authority or the State Bar of Texas Chief Disciplinary Counsel’s Office toll free at 866-224-5999. 

Texas Partner Members

Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas (lanwt.org) — Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas is a nonprofit organization that strives to meet the legal needs of more than 1.5 million eligible clients in its 114-county service area. The fifth-largest legal aid program in the United States, LANWT provides a wide variety of broad-based legal services to low-income and disadvantaged clients including family law, landlord/tenant cases, public benefits, wills, foreclosure prevention, consumer issues, and community revitalization matters.

Lone Star Legal Aid (lonestarlegal.org) — Lone Star Legal Aid is the fourth largest service provider of free legal aid in the United States. LSLA serves 72 counties in Texas and four in Arkansas, from Texarkana, to the Louisiana-Texas Gulf Coast state-line, down to Matagorda Bay, an area with over 2 million Texans eligible for free legal services. LSLA has 14 offices throughout east, southeast, and northeast Texas; covering consumer, housing, environmental justice, disaster recovery, tax relief, family law, domestic violence, sexual assault, crime victim rights, veterans benefits, and more.

State Bar of Texas (texasbar.com) — The State Bar of Texas is an administrative agency of the Supreme Court of Texas that provides educational programs for the legal profession and the public, administers the minimum continuing legal education program for attorneys, and manages the attorney discipline system.

Texas Legal Services Center (tlsc.org) — Texas Legal Services Center is a statewide nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide high-quality legal representation, advice, advocacy, and education at no cost to underserved people across the state. With more than a dozen practice areas, our work touches almost every aspect of civil law that impacts low-income Texans. 

Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (trla.org) — Texas RioGrande Legal Aid provides free legal services to people who cannot afford an attorney in 68 southwestern counties, including the entire Texas-Mexico border. More than 2.7 million residents of Southwest Texas are considered eligible for TRLA services. TRLA attorneys specialize in more than 45 areas of the law, including disaster assistance, family, employment, foreclosure, bankruptcy, landlord-tenant, housing, education, immigration, farmworker, and civil rights. 

Disaster Legal Aid Partners

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.

Examples of Legal Assistance

Survivors who qualify for assistance will be matched with local legal aid providers and volunteer attorneys to provide free legal help. Examples of legal assistance available include the following: 

  • 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 protections such as price-gouging and avoiding contractor scams in the rebuilding process; 
  • Counseling on mortgage-foreclosure problems; and 
  • Counseling on landlord-tenant problems 

Beware of Fraud  

FEMA urges affected individuals to be aware of the risk of fraud and common scams in the wake of 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. You are urged to ask questions and to require identification when someone claims to represent a government agency. 

Affected individuals 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 you 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.