Hurricane Matthew: Disaster Legal Services
Free Legal Assistance Available for North Carolina Victims of Hurricane Matthew Partnership among the North Carolina Bar Association, Legal Aid of North Carolina, American Bar Association, and FEMA helps North Carolina residents October 12, 2016 – A toll-free legal aid hotline is now available for victims of Hurricane Matthew in North Carolina. The service, which allows callers to request the assistance of a lawyer, is a partnership between the North Carolina Bar Association, Legal Aid of North Carolina, the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Low-income survivors facing legal issues may call 1-800-662-7407, the assistance hotline activated by the North Carolina Bar Association. Callers should identify that they are seeking Hurricane Matthew-related legal assistance, ask for Disaster Legal Services, and should identify the county in which they are located. Survivors who qualify for assistance will be matched with North Carolina 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 survivorsAssistance with life, medical and property insurance claimsHelp with home repair contracts and contractorsReplacement of wills and other important legal documents destroyed in the disasterAssisting in consumer protection matters, remedies and proceduresCounseling on mortgage-foreclosure problemsCounseling on landlord/tenant problems The hotline is available weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Individuals who qualify for assistance will be matched with North Carolina 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 part of the settlement by the court). Such cases are referred to a lawyer referral service.Major Disaster DeclarationA total of fourteen North Carolina counties have been approved to receive federal assistance in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. The counties are Beaufort, Bertie, Bladen, Columbus, Cumberland, Edgecombe, Hoke, Johnston Lenoir, Nash, Pitt, Robeson, Wayne, and Wilson (additional counties may be added later). People who sustained property damage as a result of Hurricane Matthew 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 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week. Hurricane survivors are also encouraged to call the FEMA hotline to report their damage. Other resources may be found on Legal Aid's website.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, by email, or visiting SBA's website. Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals may call 800-877-8339. For more information on North Carolina's recovery, visit FEMA's Hurricane Matthew page, the Twitter feed for FEMA's southeast region, and the North Carolina Department of Public Safety website. Beware of FraudBoth FEMA and the North Carolina Attorney General's Office are warning North Carolina 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. North Carolinians 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 North Carolina Attorney General's Office Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-877-566-7226. BackgroundWhen the U.S. President declares a major disaster, FEMA, in cooperation with the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division, helps to establish 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 partners with state bar associations and other legal organizations to recruit volunteer lawyers in affected areas to handle survivors' cases. In North Carolina, the partners utilize the hotline offered by the North Carolina Bar Association, which provides legal information and referrals for civil legal issues. 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 attorneys are paid part of the settlement by the court). Such cases are referred to a local lawyer referral service. To determine whether an issue qualifies for free legal assistance, individuals should call 1-800- 310-7029 to determine whether a particular issue qualifies. Partner Organizations The following organizations have joined forces to establish a toll-free phone line for North Carolina Hurricane Matthew victims to request free legal assistance, and to provide volunteer attorneys to handle cases arising from hurricane related damage. North Carolina Bar Association – The North Carolina Bar Association is a voluntary organization of lawyers, paralegals and law students dedicated to serving the public and the legal profession. Contact: Allan Head, Executive Director, 919-677-0561, Ahead@ncbar.org.Legal Aid of North Carolina – Legal aid of North Carolina is a statewide, non-profit law firm that provides free legal services in civil matters to low-income people in order to ensure access to justice and to remove legal barriers to economic opportunity. Contact: George Hausen, Executive Director, 919-586-2130, GeorgeH@legalaidnc.org. 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. Contact: Brooks Jaffa, ABA YLD District 9 Rep., 704-442-1010, ext. 139, Bfjaffa@gmail.com.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.