Pro Bono Net and the American Bar Association (ABA) Young Lawyers Division (YLD) Disaster Legal Services Program are pleased to announce the Spanish version of a self-help disaster recovery tool (www.FEMAAppeals.org) that allows disaster survivors to create an appeal letter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The tool, “Carta de apelación a la Agencia Federal de Manejo de Emergencias (FEMA, por sus siglas en inglés),” can be found here. Frequently Asked Questions about the FEMA appeals process can be found here.
The frequency, intensity, and aftermath of climate disasters continue to impact communities across the country, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration once again predicts an above-normal hurricane season for 2022. As we have learned from past disaster responses, survivors who speak languages other than English face more barriers in receiving critical information from authorities or accessing disaster assistance that can help them recover and rebuild.
When Hurricane Ida devastated communities in 2021 across the eastern coast, officials in New York called for improved language access measures to alert individuals who spoke languages other than English and Spanish. After Hurricane Florence hit North Carolina in 2018, over 150,000 individuals who speak a language other than English lived in disaster-impacted areas. Just a year before, the response to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, and the California wildfires brought a number of language access issues that were well-documented by groups on the ground.
One of the main federal assistance programs to aid survivors after a major disaster comes from FEMA. Individuals can apply for federal disaster assistance, and if they are denied assistance or awarded less than they need to cover for damages, survivors can appeal FEMA’s determination. Many survivors apply to FEMA but are often denied for reasons that can be explained through an appeal letter with additional documentation.
Pro Bono Net’s FEMA appeals interactive interview, powered by LawHelp Interactive, enables survivors to create and generate an appeal letter they can print or download to file directly with FEMA. It was initially developed with the City Bar Justice Center in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy in 2012 and has helped over 14,000 survivors impacted by multiple major disasters. It has also been updated over time to reflect changes in the application and appeals process, including in 2021 to incorporate questions that address the needs of survivors with disabilities. These updates come at a time when federal agencies, including FEMA, are reexamining their policies and practices to eliminate barriers that have historically prevented people from accessing federal disaster assistance.
“Language access is a critical component of equitable disaster recovery,” said Linda Anderson Stanley, Special Advisor of the ABA YLD DLS program. “The additions to this tool come at a key time as the Atlantic hurricane season is upon us. We are lucky to work with Pro Bono Net on such an important project.”
“We are pleased to work with the ABA YLD Disaster Legal Services Program to make our tool accessible to Spanish-speaking survivors,” said Jeanne Ortiz-Ortiz, Pro Bono & Strategic Initiatives Manager at Pro Bono Net. “With Spanish being the second most spoken language in the U.S., this is an important step toward more equitable responses after disasters. We hope to reach more people seeking federal assistance to recover.”
Survivors can access the Spanish version of the FEMA appeals interactive interview by clicking here: https://lawhelpinteractive.org/Interview/GenerateInterview/8187/engine
Special thanks to Servicios Legales de Puerto Rico (Legal Services of Puerto Rico), Morrison & Foerster, the Louisiana State Bar Association, the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center, and Nicole del Rio (former member of the ABA-YLD Disaster Legal Services) for their invaluable feedback as part of the review and testing process.
About Pro Bono Net
Pro Bono Net is a nonprofit leader in increasing access to justice, transforming the way legal help reaches the underserved through innovative technology and collaboration. To learn more about Pro Bono Net’s programs, click here. For more information about Pro Bono Net’s disaster recovery efforts, click here.
About the ABA Young Lawyers Division Disaster Legal Services Program
Through the Disaster Legal Services Program, the ABA Young Lawyers Division (YLD) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency provide immediate temporary legal assistance to disaster survivors at no charge. Since September 2007, the ABA YLD has responded to over 200 major disasters across the U.S. To learn more about the program, please click here.