AUSTIN — A toll-free legal assistance hotline is available to people affected by Tropical Storm Imelda and flooding that occurred in Chambers, Harris, Jefferson, Liberty, Montgomery, Orange and San Jacinto counties Sept. 17 through 23. This service is a partnership among Lone Star Legal Aid, the State Bar of Texas, the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division (ABA YLD), the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and other local organizations.
Low-income individuals facing legal issues as a result of Imelda may call 866-659-0666. Individuals who qualify for assistance will be matched with Texas lawyers who can provide free, limited legal help. Survivors should be aware that there are some limitations on disaster legal services.
Examples of legal assistance available include:
- Assistance securing government benefits as they are made 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 protection issues such as price-gouging and avoiding contractor scams in the rebuilding process;
- Counseling on mortgage-foreclosure problems; and
- Counseling on landlord-tenant problems
Major disaster declaration
On Oct. 4, FEMA announced a major disaster declaration for Chambers, Harris, Jefferson, Liberty, Montgomery, and Orange counties making federal funding available to individuals and businesses owners who sustained damage as a result of Tropical Storm Imelda between Sept. 17 and 23. On Oct. 25, San Jacinto County was designated for disaster assistance as part of Texas’s federal disaster declaration.
People who sustained property damage as a result of the storm and accompanying flooding 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 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. (CT) seven days a week.
Low-interest disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration 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/ela. Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals may call 800-877-8339.
Individuals who qualify also may use texaslegalanswers.org — an free online legal advice clinic where people can pose specific questions related to disaster civil legal issues and have them answered online by volunteer attorneys. Texas Legal Answers is operated by the State Bar of Texas in conjunction with the American Bar Association.
Individuals who are in need of legal assistance with Tropical Storm Imelda Recovery can apply with Lone Star Legal Aid over the phone at 866-659-0666, online at lonestarlegal.org, or in person at any of the offices listed on its website.
Additional disaster recovery resources are available at texasbar.com/disaster, texaslawhelp.org, lonestarlegal.blog/services/disaster-relief, and disasterlegalaid.org. For more information on Texas recovery, follow FEMA on Twitter at twitter.com/femaregion6.
Visit the Texas Division of Emergency Management website, txdps.state.tx.us/dem, and fema.gov/texas- disaster-mitigation for publications and reference material on rebuilding and repairing safer and stronger.
Attorneys who would like to provide legal help to Tropical Storm Imelda survivors can view volunteer opportunities here.
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.
Beware of fraud
Both FEMA and the Texas Attorney General’s Office warn Texans 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. Texans 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 toll free at 866-720-5721. Complaints may also be made to local law enforcement agencies.
Lone Star Legal Aid (lonestarlegal.org) — Lone Star Legal Aid (LSLA) is the fourth largest service provider of free legal aid in the United States. Lone Star Legal Aid serves 72 counties in Texas and four in Arkansas. Lone Star Legal Aid has 13 offices which are in Houston, Angleton, Beaumont, Belton, Bryan, Conroe, Galveston, Longview, Nacogdoches, Paris, Texarkana, Tyler and Waco.
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.
American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division (americanbar.org) — 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.gov) — 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 ABA, FEMA underwrites the cost of operating toll-free legal assistance lines for victims in areas designated as federal disaster sites.
Disaster Legal Aid.Org (disasterlegalaid.org) — The National Disaster Legal Aid Resource Center, or DisasterLegalAid.org (DLA), is a nationwide project that hosts self-help tools and legal information for people and communities impacted by natural disasters. DLA also serves as a central hub for collaboration, communication, and networking among legal advocates serving disaster-affected individuals. It is a collaborative effort of Lone Star Legal Aid, Pro Bono Net, the American Bar Association, the Legal Services Corporation, and the National Legal Aid & Defender Association.
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