An Introduction to Disaster Relief Advocacy

Session type
General credits
Total credits
Credit status
Cost notes

FREE for LANC employees/volunteers. $65.00 for everyone else.

Program Overview:

This CLE will provide an overview of the laws surrounding disaster relief work, including topics such as: the agencies involved in disaster recovery work and how to avoid costly complications to clients’ claims; an overview of FEMA benefits; discussion of laws governing FEMA recoupments; how to defend and enforce tenants’ rights post-disaster; and discussion of other emergency disaster benefits. This presentation will be ideal for attorneys representing clients in a variety of legal issues related to natural disasters.  The training will be beneficial for legal services attorneys, volunteer attorneys involved in Legal Aid’s pro bono program, and attorneys in private practice.



12:00-12:30 p.m. - Who’s Who in Disaster Recovery and Response

Speakers:          Dale Deese and Brad Piland

Description:     This session will provide an overview of the major players who provide benefits to survivors through their disaster recovery work - from volunteer organizations to state, federal and local agencies.  It will delve into how a state or federal disaster is declared, the Stafford Act’s mandated Sequence of Delivery and how it impacts how clients access recovery benefits and what clients need to do to prevent a costly and stressful duplication of benefits issues.


12:30-1:00 p.m. - FEMA Benefits Overview:  What’s Available and How to Get It, From Application Through Reconsideration

Speakers:          Ashley Skaff and Emma Smiley

Description:     Everything lawyers need to know about helping your client access FEMA benefits.  This session will cover types of benefits available from FEMA, the application and appeal process (including deadlines), and applicable laws and regulations relating to the FEMA process.


1:00-1:30 p.m. - FEMA Recoupments and Other Was to Lose That Recovery Money

Speakers:          Nicole Mueller, Ana Maria Bondoc, and Candace Speller

Description:     This session picks up where the previous session leaves off, describing how FEMA may seek to reclaim the benefits it provided to your client and how to defend against those attempts.  It will include an update of recent changes governing recoupments.


1:30-2:00 p.m. - Defending and Enforcing Tenants’ Rights Post Disaster

Speakers:          Kelsey Walker and Lesley Albritton

Description:     Tenants are often more vulnerable than homeowners after a natural disaster.  Nevertheless, a good lawyer can help prevent tenants from being exploited and preserve housing stability. This session will cover the various protections available to tenants after a disaster.


2:00-2:30 p.m. - Emergency Disaster Benefits

Speakers:          Erin Bennett and Elizabeth Savage

Description:     From Disaster Unemployment to emergency food assistance, this session will provide an overview of other important benefits, most of which are deployed in the immediate aftermath of a disaster.



Dale Deese, Managing Attorney of the Disaster Relief Project at Legal Aid of North Carolina, is originally from Detroit Michigan but attended Junior High and High School in Robeson County, North Carolina. He attended undergraduate school at UNC Chapel Hill and then worked three years as a community organizer with a small local non-profit organization until attending law school at North Carolina Central University School of Law. He worked at Lumbee River Legal Services beginning in 1989 and became Executive Director in 2004, then served in that capacity until consolidation in 2000/2001. He was part of a legal team, which on behalf of public housing tenants, sued the U.S. Dept. of Energy regarding transportation of nuclear waste through the town of Pembroke. He is also one of the principal founders of Grace Court – transitional supportive housing for women in substance abuse recovery and their families. He served as District Court Judge in Robeson County for 2 ½ years. This position with LANC has afforded him the wonderful opportunity to collaborate and work with a hardworking and conscientious group of people and to travel and meet people across Eastern North Carolina.  He lives in Robeson County where he loves being and working outside. He is married with one son and two cats.    


Brad Piland is a staff attorney at Legal Aid of North Carolina.  Since arriving at Legal Aid, he has worked as part of the Disaster Relief Project.  He assists individual clients on matters ranging from evictions to contractor fraud.  He also works with community organizations to further their mission by assisting on matters ranging from contract drafting to non-profit formation.


Ashley (AD) Skaff is a Senior Staff Attorney with the Disaster Relief Project of Legal Aid of North Carolina. She earned her undergraduate degree and Master’s of Social Work from Valdosta State University in Valdosta, GA and her JD from North Carolina Central University School of Law. Prior to coming on board with Legal Aid, A.D. worked as a child and family therapist in an acute care psychiatric hospital. She lives in Durham with her spouse and two very spoiled cats, Bruce and Dave.


Emma Smiley is a supervising attorney with Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Disaster Recovery Project. A graduate of Duke Law, she has previously worked for Legal Aid in Raleigh and Rockingham, North Carolina, and has handled wage and hour cases in private practice.


Nicole Mueller is a Senior Staff Attorney with the Disaster Relief Project of Legal Aid of North Carolina and is one of the projects founding team members. She earned her undergraduate degree from UNC Chapel Hill and her JD from Elon University School of Law. Prior to coming on board with Legal Aid, Nicole also served as a pro bono volunteer assisting victims immediately after Hurricane Florence.


Ana Maria Bondoc is a staff attorney with the Disaster Relief Project at Legal Aid. Previously, Ana Maria worked at the Urban Justice Center in New York, focusing on veterans benefits and eviction defense. A proud military spouse, Ana Maria is a member of the state bar of California.


Candace Speller has been licensed in North Carolina since 2019. She attended North Carolina State University for her undergraduate degree and earned her JD from UNC Chapel Hill. Since being with Legal Aid she has worked on a range of a cases involving issues such as FEMA recoupment appeals, estate planning, heir property, and consumer fraud.


Kelsey Walker is a graduate of the University of Florida Levin College of Law, where she received a CALI Excellence “Book” Award for her work assisting under-served communities in both the Family Law Clinic and the Veterans Law Clinic. She is currently a W. C. Dawson Fellow on Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Disaster Relief Project, where she assists disaster survivors in overcoming legal barriers to recovery. She frequently represents homeowners in resolving property ownership issues, tenants, and victims of contractor fraud.


Lesley Wiseman Albritton is the Project Coordinator and Managing Attorney of the Disaster Relief Project at Legal Aid of North Carolina, Inc.  Ms. Albritton received her undergraduate degree from Kenyon College and her law degree from Ohio Northern University, where she graduated with High Distinction.  She was recently named a 2019 Leader in the Law by North Carolina Lawyer’s Weekly.  She lives in Farmville, North Carolina with her husband and three sons.


Erin Bennett, MPH, Esq. received her J.D. from the University of North Carolina School of Law, and her Masters of Public Health in Health Policy and Management from the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health. She works as a Staff Attorney for Legal Aid of North Carolina with both the Disaster Relief Project and the Medical-Legal Partnership (MLP) Project. As a Disaster Relief attorney, she assists storm survivors with heirship and other property issues, seeking storm repairs to their homes, and other storm-related legal issues. As an MLP attorney, she works to build Legal Aid’s capacity to help clients who are facing issues surrounding public benefits and insurance, education, housing, and interpersonal violence referred directly from medical providers and health partners.


Elizabeth B. Savage is a Staff Attorney with the Disaster Relief Project of Legal Aid of NC.  A dual degree graduate from Campbell University, she holds a Juris Doctor and a Master of Science in Public Health.  She is committed to promoting health and justice for North Carolinians, and in her role as a disaster relief attorney, primarily assists low-income disaster survivors with varying legal needs associated with the disaster recovery process.