Free Legal Assistance Available for North Carolina Survivors of Tropical Storm Fred

Partnership among the North Carolina Bar Association and Foundation, Legal Aid of North Carolina, American Bar Association, and FEMA to assist North Carolina residents affected by natural disasters

A toll-free legal aid hotline is now available for survivors of Tropical Storm Fred in North Carolina. Disaster Legal Services, which allows callers to request the assistance of a lawyer, is a partnership between the North Carolina Bar Association and Foundation, Legal Aid of North Carolina, the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Low-income survivors with disaster-related legal questions may call the disaster legal assistance hotline at 1-866-219-5262 ext. 2657. Callers should identify that they are seeking storm-related legal assistance, ask for Disaster Legal Services assistance, and 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 survivors

• Assistance with life, medical and property insurance claims

• Help with home repair contracts and contractors

• Replacement of wills and other important legal documents destroyed in the disaster

• Assisting in consumer protection matters, remedies and procedures

• Counseling on mortgage-foreclosure problems

• Counseling 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 will be referred to the North Carolina Lawyer Referral Service at 800-662-7660.

Major Disaster Declaration

A total of three North Carolina counties have been approved to receive federal assistance in the wake of Tropical Storm Fred. The counties are Buncombe, Haywood and Transylvania (additional counties may be added later).

People who sustained property damage as a result of Tropical Storm Fred 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. Tropical Storm Fred survivors are also encouraged to call the FEMA hotline to report their damage. Other resources may be found on www.legalaidnc.org/disaster.

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, emailing disastercustomerservice@sba.gov, or visiting SBA’s website at https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela. Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals may call 800-877-8339.

For more information on North Carolina’s recovery, visit the disaster Web page at https://www.fema.gov/disaster/4617, Twitter at https://twitter.com/femaregion4 and the North Carolina Department of Public Safety website at http://www.ncdps.gov/.

Beware of Fraud

Both FEMA and the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office are warning North Carolina residentsof 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 877-566-7226.

Background

When 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 North Carolina Bar Association Young Lawyers Division partners with Legal Aid of North Carolina to offer a disaster legal services hotline that 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 the NC Lawyer Referral Service at 800-662-7660.

Partner Organizations

The following organizations have joined forces to establish a toll-free phone line for North Carolina Tropical Storm Fred survivors to request free legal assistance, and to provide volunteer attorneys to handle cases arising from hurricane related damage.

North Carolina Bar Association and Foundation – The North Carolina Bar Association is a voluntary organization of lawyers, paralegals and law students dedicated to serving the public and the legal profession. The North Carolina Bar Foundation provides support to the Disaster Legal Services pro bono project and North Carolina Bar Association volunteers. The NCBA Young Lawyers Division, often referred to as the service arm of the NCBA, is involved in a multitude of worthwhile projects and public service endeavors, including Disaster Legal Services.

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.

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.

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 Resource Center – The National Disaster Legal Aid Resource Center, or DisasterLegalAid.org (DLA), is a national online resource with self-help tools and free legal information for individuals and communities impacted by natural disasters. It is a collaborative effort of Lone Star Legal Aid, Pro Bono Net, the American Bar Association, the Legal Services Corporation, and the National Legal Aid & Defender Association.

 

Media contacts:

  • Bryan Alexander, Legal Aid of North Carolina, Development & Public Relations Associate, 404-273-3104, bryana@legalaidnc.org
  • Kim Bart Mullikin, North Carolina Bar Association, Foundation Senior Director, 919-677-0561, DLS@ncbar.org
  • Brandon McPherson, American Bar Association, ABA YLD District 9 Rep., 919-896-3397, brandonlmcpherson@gmail.com