Free Legal Assistance Available for Missouri Storm Victims
Monday February 1, 2016
As a result of the recent severe storms and tornadoes in Missouri, the Missouri Bar Young Lawyers Section in conjunction with FEMA, the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division, the Missouri Emergency Management Agency and the four Legal Services Corporation Grantees (Legal Aid of Western Missouri, Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, Legal Services of Southern Missouri, Mid-Missouri Legal Services), is providing free disaster legal assistance efforts to individuals that were affected by the recent storms in Barry, Barton, Camden, Cape Girardeau, Cole, Crawford, Franklin, Gasconade, Greene, Hickory, Jasper, Jefferson, Laclede, Lawrence, Lincoln, Maries, McDonald, Morgan, Newton, Osage, Phelps, Polk, Pulaski, Scott, St. Charles, St. Francois, St. Louis, Ste. Genevieve, Stone, Taney, Texas, Webster, and Wright Counties. Free disaster legal assistance is now being provided for individuals who are affected by the severe storms, tornadoes, straight-line winds, and flooding which occurred on December 23, 2015 to January 9, 2016. The toll free number for the Young Lawyers Division Disaster Legal Assistance is 1-800-829-4128 and storm survivors may now call the hotline. Local legal aid providers and pro bono attorneys will be available to help with 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.
Storm survivors may call the toll free number and a volunteer attorney will respond by telephone to answer their legal questions. The goal is to assist as many individuals affected by the storms as possible.
Major Disaster Declaration
On January 21, 2016, The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced that federal disaster assistance has been made available to the State of Missouri to supplement state, tribal and local recovery efforts in the area affected by severe storms, tornadoes, straight-line winds, and flooding during the period of December 23, 2015 to January 9, 2016. The President’s action makes federal funding available to affected individuals in Barry, Barton, Camden, Cape Girardeau, Cole, Crawford, Franklin, Gasconade, Greene, Hickory, Jasper, Jefferson, Laclede, Lawrence, Lincoln, Maries, McDonald, Morgan, Newton, Osage, Phelps, Polk, Pulaski, Scott, St. Charles, St. Francois, St. Louis, Ste. Genevieve, Stone, Taney, Texas, Webster, and Wright Counties.
Missourians who sustained property damage as a result of the severe storms, tornadoes, straight-line winds, and flooding are urged to register with FEMA, as they may be eligible for federal and state disaster assistance. People who sustained storm damage in the affected counties above can register for FEMA assistance online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov or via smartphone or Web-enabled device at m.fema.gov. Applicants may also call 800-621-FEMA (3362) or 1-800-462-7585 (TTY) from 7 am to 10 pm daily. Applicants should be prepared to provide basic information about themselves (name, permanent address and phone number), insurance coverage and any other information to help substantiate the loss. In addition, there is information available at www.DisasterLegalAid.org.
Beware of Fraud
Both FEMA and the Missourians Attorney General’s Office urge Missourians 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. Missourians 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.
When the U.S. President declares a major disaster, FEMA, in cooperation with the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division, establishes 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 joins with state bar associations and other legal organizations to recruit volunteer lawyers in affected areas to handle survivors’ cases. In this instance, there will be no additional expense for the federal government, because the State Bar Association is offering use of its existing toll-free line. However, victims 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).
The following organizations have joined forces to support a toll-free phone line for Missouri storm survivors to request free legal assistance, and to provide volunteer attorneys to handle cases arising from recent storm damage.
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 one of the largest voluntary professional membership groups 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.
The Missouri Bar– (http://www.mobar.org) The Missouri Bar is the statewide organization of all Missouri’s 30,000 lawyers. Its purpose is to improve the law, the administration of justice and the legal profession on behalf of the public. Through educational programs, publications and a wide range of services, The Missouri Bar serves as a valuable resource for members—and for the citizens of Missouri. Its Young Lawyers’ Section, comprised of lawyers in their first five years of practice or under 36 years of age, is dedicated to serving the public and the profession as the “service arm of the bar.”
National Disaster Legal Aid Online– (http://www.disasterlegalaid.org/) 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.
Mid Missouri Legal Services– (http://www.mmls.org) MMLS is a Legal Services Corporation (LSC) grantee program that provides free civil legal services to low-income people in 11 counties in central Missouri. MMLS has been in operation since 1978 and serves Audrain, Boone, Callaway, Chariton, Cole, Cooper, Howard, Miller, Moniteau, Osage and Randolph Counties. It has offices in Columbia and Jefferson City.
Legal Services of Eastern Missouri–(http://www.lsem.org) LSEM provides free civil legal services to people living with low income/low opportunity, the elderly and disabled in 21 eastern Missouri counties. It is available to help residents in eastern Missouri with legal issues resulting from the recent flooding.
Legal Services of Southern Missouri– (http://www.lsosm.org) LSOSM provides free civil legal services to low-income persons living in 43 counties in southern Missouri. LSSM has offices located in Springfield, Rolla, West Plains, Charleston and Cape Girardeau. LSSM attorneys are available to help low-income residents of southern Missouri with legal issues resulting from the recent flooding. To request legal assistance call toll free 800-444-4863 or 800-748-7456.
Legal Aid of Western Missouri– (http://www.lawmo.org/) LAWMO provides free civil legal assistance to people who need it most and can afford it least. With offices in downtown Kansas City, Joplin, St. Joseph, Warrensburg and a neighborhood office on Kansas City’s west side, we serve a 40-county area where 288,000 people live in poverty. LAWMO attorneys and staff are available to help low-income residents with legal issues resulting from the recent flooding.