Legal Services Alabama (LSA), the largest non-profit law firm in Alabama, provides free legal help to victims of the severe storms, tornadoes, straight-line winds and flooding from the April 28 and 29. "Civil legal assistance can be critical to victims of natural disasters who are rebuilding their lives, and it is important that we are able to respond to requests for assistance from low-income individuals and families in the aftermath of storms and disasters," said LSA Executive Director James Fry.
Following a disaster, Legal Services Alabama provides low-income Alabamians with legal aid on matters ranging from temporary housing, rent-gouging, evictions, disaster benefits, consumer fraud, and family issues that arise because of disaster-related stress. "Applying for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) following a federal disaster declaration is an important step on the road to recovery," says Larry Gardella, LSA’s Director for Advocacy.
As of May 2, four Alabama counties - Baldwin, Jefferson, Lee and Limestone - were designated for federal disaster assistance for individuals, households and businesses as part of Alabama’s federal disaster declaration for storms and tornadoes.
There are two types of disaster assistance programs available from FEMA: Individual and Household Programs that provides money and direct services. Each has eligibility requirements. The U.S. Small Business Administration provides low-interest loans for damage to property owned by homeowners, renters, businesses and private non-profit organizations that are not fully covered by insurance. Legal Services Alabama is helping individuals make applications for FEMA assistance and Small Business Administration (SBA) loans, and will continue to assist individuals with appeals of FEMA and SBA denials.
"People have to understand the necessity of filing for FEMA and SBA disaster assistance by the filing deadlines," according to Gardella. Gardella said many prospective applicants are hesitant to apply because they don’t have all of their documents or don’t have final decisions from their insurance companies. However, if they do not apply by the deadline, they will not be able to get any FEMA or SBA storm assistance. They also may be unable to get any other recovery assistance that may become available at a later date and may require a FEMA number.
"Even if they are sure that they will be denied because they have not yet heard from their insurance company or they don’t have needed documentation, people must file for FEMA assistance prior to the deadline," said Gardella.
Legal Services Alabama is a non-profit organization providing free civil legal assistance to low-income individuals. Storm victims interested in seeking free legal help from LSA should call 1-866-456-4995 or apply online at www.AlabamaLegalHelp.org.
LSA is funded in large part by a grant from the federal government through the Legal Services Corporation in Washington, DC. LSA actively provides free civil legal assistance to low-income Alabamians and has been active in the Katrina and BP recovery efforts as well as the recovery following the tornadoes of April 27, 2011.