Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma (LASO) has a new Disaster Unit fully dedicated to helping low-income Oklahomans overcome civil legal barriers to their recovery from the Spring 2019 severe storms, straight-line winds, tornadoes, and flooding.
LASO’s Disaster Unit is conducting outreach and providing free civil legal services until Dec. 31 for all financially eligible Oklahomans impacted by the federally declared disaster DR-4438-OK. The team works in close partnership with other state and local agencies such as Oklahoma Indian Legal Services, Oklahoma Emergency Management, case management agencies, and local long-term recovery committees to ensure that holistic recovery services are provided.
The free civil legal help provided by the team is possible due to funding received from Legal Services Corporation (LSC). Last year Congress passed the Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Act of 2019, which included $19.1 billion in supplemental disaster funds to address damage caused by hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, and other natural disasters that occurred in states and U.S. territories from 2017-2019. LSC received $15 million to support the delivery of legal services to individuals affected by disasters and provided disaster relief grants to legal aid organizations in Alaska, Arkansas, California, Florida, Iowa, Micronesia, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Texas.
“Most disaster-impacted Americans don’t realize that many of the barriers to recovery they are facing are legal in nature and may be overcome with assistance from legal aid,” said LASO’s Disaster Unit Project Director, Christa Figgins. “Civil legal services are critical to disaster survivors; I’ve rarely met a disaster survivor without a civil legal need.”
Common legal issues after a disaster include correcting title issues to reflect current ownership, FEMA appeals and recoupments, contractor fraud, difficulty with insurance claims, and more.
The arrival of the COVID 19 pandemic has made LASO’s services to disaster survivors more vital than ever. Due to COVID many recovery efforts have been severely curtailed and many disaster survivors, in addition to the legal issues they may already have, may be forced to face additional hardships such as unemployment, evictions, foreclosures, and medical bills, further delaying their recovery. In those cases, it is critical that survivors get help with their disaster-related legal problem so they are in a stronger, more resilient position if faced with additional challenges.
Over 5,000 Oklahomans applied for FEMA assistance after the Spring 2019 storms, and LASO’s Disaster Unit is dedicated to serving as many of those disaster survivors as possible. Anyone affected by the disaster who believes they may have a civil legal barrier to recovery should apply for assistance online at oklegalconnect.org or call LASO’s 2019 disaster hotline at 888-602-8494.
Information: Disaster Outreach Paralegal Sierra Valverde, (918) 238-1010 or firstname.lastname@example.org.