The Florida Bar Foundation board of directors Sept. 7 approved an allocation of up to $500,000 to support Florida legal aid organizations that suffer infrastructure damage or equipment losses and to assist their clients with hurricane-related civil legal issues in the wake of Hurricane Irma. The funds are from Florida’s share of a settlement between Bank of America and the U.S. Department of Justice and six states.
When hurricanes and other natural disasters strike, first responders make sure people have the basics – food, shelter, and medical care. But when the survivors start picking up the pieces of their lives, it’s the second responders on whom they depend. Civil legal aid providers are among the most critical of the second responders. They are in the recovery effort for the long haul.
Florida’s civil legal aid organizations provide help:
- securing FEMA and other benefits available to disaster survivors
- dealing with life, medical and property insurance claims
- addressing issues with home repair contracts and contractors
- replacing wills and other important legal documents destroyed in the disaster
- handling consumer protection matters, remedies and procedures
- preventing foreclosure and resolving landlord/tenant problems
To supplement the funds it has allocated, The Florida Bar Foundation has created the Florida Hurricane Legal Aid Fund. All donations to the fund will go directly to civil legal assistance for Floridians affected by Hurricane Irma and any subsequent hurricanes that make landfall in Florida.
“Legal aid is critical after a natural disaster,” said Florida Bar Foundation President Jewel White, who is also Pinellas County Attorney. “Civil legal aid organizations often help clients not only in the immediate aftermath of a disaster but for years afterwards as they work to rebuild their lives and businesses. We want to make sure Florida’s civil legal aid delivery system is equipped for the massive job ahead, and we will work with our partners at The Florida Bar, the American Bar Association and the Legal Services Corporation to make sure Floridians’ post-hurricane civil legal needs will be addressed.“
The Florida Bar Foundation provides hurricane-related civil legal aid resources and an online donation link to the Florida Hurricane Legal Aid Fund at www.TheFloridaBarFoundation.org/storm-aid.
Among the resources available are links to FloridaLawHelp.org, where Floridians can find their local legal aid organization, and Florida Free Legal Answers, where they can post civil legal questions to a panel of volunteer lawyers.
The Foundation’s “Storm Aid” page also will offer links to volunteer sign-up opportunities for Florida lawyers. These include an effort of The Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division and the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Section to recruit volunteer attorneys, as well as FloridaProBonoMatters.org, through which volunteer attorneys can find and register their interest in pro bono cases available through Florida’s legal aid and pro bono programs.
After observing how the Texas and Louisiana legal aid communities responded following Hurricane Harvey, the Foundation moved to make funding and resources available as early as possible. The Foundation board, in a telephone board meeting that took the place of its quarterly in-person meeting, which was canceled due to Hurricane Irma, also approved $10.5 million in grant funding for 2017-18.
About The Florida Bar Foundation
The mission of The Florida Bar Foundation (www.TheFloridaBarFoundation.org), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, is to provide greater access to justice. Through strategic grantmaking, the Foundation funds civil legal aid and projects to improve the administration of justice and increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the legal aid delivery system. In addition to providing funds directly to Florida legal aid organizations, the Foundation engages in catalytic philanthropy by investing in training, technology, technical assistance, assessment and capacity-building for the legal aid delivery system and works to develop and expand innovative pro bono initiatives. Principal support for the Foundation’s charitable activities comes from the Interest on Trust Accounts (IOTA) Program implemented by the Florida Supreme Court in 1981. Additional support comes from gifts made by Florida attorneys, law firms, corporations, foundations and others.