LSC Awards CLSMF Disaster Relief Grant

This October, Legal Services Corporation (LSC) announced awards totaling $14,145,055 to be distributed to 11 legal aid organizations in states affected by natural disasters in the past two years. These funds will help address unresolved civil legal issues for survivors of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, as well as survivors of the 2017 California wildfires. “Natural disasters have a disproportionate impact on low-income people and give rise to a significant number of legal issues – such as wrongful evictions, denials of insurance claims and government benefits, and consumer scams,” said LSC President James J. Sandman. The investment of this capital in legal aid will support projects that mobilize pro bono attorneys, enhance online resources for survivors, and improve communication and cooperation among legal aid clients, pro bono attorneys, and partner organizations.   

CLSMF was among the selected LSC grantees and will receive $731,459 over two years from LSC. The grant will be used to improve survivor awareness of available disaster legal services and benefits by developing a system to determine client eligibility for resources and services. CLSMF will also coordinate with service agencies and other partners to better serve disaster survivors.  

With two-year funding under the Disaster Relief Grant, CLSMF anticipates impacting approximately 600 survivors of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in our 12-county services area. These resources will be applied toward incorporating workflows that focus on integrating legal benefits triage in tandem with The Florida Bar’s online portal referral service and CLSMF’s Helpline. Additionally, CLSMF will implement a live chat for disaster relief survivors and target outreach efforts to their benefit.    

According to ProBono.net, survivors’ legal needs six months after a disaster could include foreclosure, bankruptcy, flood insurance proof of loss preparation and FEMA flood directorate appeals, civil and disability rights cases, landlord-tenant concerns with repair issues or mold concealment, and disputes regarding significant damage determination against homeowners. In addition, Florida has seen a spike in residency due to the catastrophic destruction of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Although the community has welcomed Maria evacuees with open arms, these survivors are seeing significant civil legal problems during their transition.    

To address disaster-related issues across the state, CLSMF is collaborating with Legal Services of Greater Miami and Legal Services of North Florida, both of whom also received funds from LSC Disaster Relief Grants. The three legal aid organizations will partner with Legal.io, an online technology platform and portal that incorporates open data standards to create a more efficient access point for potential pro bono volunteers and survivors, allowing for easy access through mobile devices. This collaborative effort should efficiently identify, educate, and connect survivors of Hurricanes Irma and Maria to resources and partners that can help them resolve their legal issues. This technology will also be able to measure the impact of the network and services provided.