Halimah is a sophomore at Seton Hall studying International Relations with a minor in Middle Eastern Studies and French. Passionate about social justice and empowering Muslim women, she regularly blogs for MuslimGirl.net. Halimah is a Development & Communications intern for the Fall of 2015 at Pro Bono Net’s New York Headquarters.
The Practicising Law Institute, PLI, recently held a seminar aimed to train volunteers who are interested in helping people affected by disasters entitled “Providing Legal Assistance in the Aftermath of Disaster 2015.” Tiela Chalmers, the Chief Executive Officer of the Alameda County Bar Association, and member of Pro Bono Net’s Board of Directors, hosted the highly informative training. It took months to create and featured various segments that covered a wide range of topics concerning disaster relief.
In the process of establishing this seminar, Chalmers and other collaborating agencies spoke to several legal service individuals, who worked in various disaster-struck locations, to consult them on the most pressing issues that needed to be addressed in the aftermath of disasters. They concluded that there are numerous issues to address, however, the most urgent needs were: landlord and tenant problems, foreclosure and mortgage concerns, insurance, Federal Disaster Assistance, and consumer issues.
Julia Price Rosner, the Unemployment Insurance Coordinator at Manhattan Legal Services, explained the long and tedious process of applying for FEMA to compensate for personal loses after disasters.
She articulated two preconditions that need to happen to mobilize FEMA. First, the governor must request a presidential disaster declaration. Following this declaration, the president declares a disaster, which would consequently authorize a series of programs aimed to alleviate disaster-struck regions. Although Rosner’s explanation seemed simple and straightforward, she stressed the difficulty of actually acquiring aid from FEMA.
Rosner instructed the trainees to ensure that their clients have necessary documents required to complete the FEMA application form, including total household income, social security number, previous address and post-disaster address, bank routing number, insurance information, and a description of losses.
Perhaps the most difficult thing to do from the list is to compile a record of lost items. Recovering from a disaster that claimed much of one’s personal possessions is a harrowing experience that most don’t anticipate or prepare for; thus, recalling all the small and large items that stored some of the most valuable memories is not an easy task.
In order to be eligible for FEMA, Rosner notes that the homeowner or whoever is living in the affected house must be a US citizen, a non-citizen national, or a qualified alien. For the undocumented immigrant population affected by disasters, they can apply for FEMA if they have kids who are US citizens or if anyone living in the home with them is a US citizen.
The Federal Disaster Assistance segment closed with a discussion about Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA), a federal program only eligible for people who lost work or income directly due to a disaster. Rosner highlighted that DUA is a program of last resort, meaning that it’s difficult to obtain and only granted under certain conditions.
An individual who’s unemployed as a result of a disaster must first apply for state unemployment insurance. If the individual is denied, then he or she can apply for DUA provided that they prove denial of state unemployment insurance.
The key element Rosner repeatedly underscored is that Federal Disaster Assistance programs should be considered only after exhausting all other disaster relief options. She maintained that the federal government will ensure that there are no other disaster relief alternatives before granting it to disaster affected individuals.
To learn more about how to prepare for representing Disaster Victims, or view the “Providing Legal Assistance in the Aftermath of Disaster 2015” webinar, visit the Pracitising Law Institute’s website www.pli.edu.
At the core of Practising Law Institute’s mission is its commitment to offer training to members of the legal profession to support their pro bono service. PLI offers pro bono training, scholarships, and access to live programs, Webcasts, and On-Demand archived programs, as well as an extensive Pro Bono Membership program. For more information about PLI’s pro bono programs and activities, please visit www.pli.edu/probono. Follow PLI’s Pro Bono Group on LinkedIn, and on Twitter @ProBonoPLI.]