Following recent storms and flooding in Texas, the State Bar of Texas, the American Bar Association, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and other organizations have partnered to help provide assistance to affected individuals.
A toll-free legal hotline is available at (800) 504-7030 to connect low-income individuals affected by the disaster with local legal aid providers who can help with assistance securing FEMA and other government benefits available to disaster victims; assistance with life, medical, and property insurance claims; help with home repair contracts and contractors; replacement of wills and other important legal documents lost or destroyed in the disaster; consumer protection issues such as price-gouging and avoiding contractor scams in the rebuilding process; counseling on mortgage-foreclosure problems; and counseling on landlord-tenant problems.
The hotline is available 24/7 and callers can leave a message at any time. Individuals who qualify for assistance will be matched with Texas lawyers who have volunteered to provide free, limited legal help.
Victims 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 a local lawyer referral service.
Major Disaster Declaration
In mid-June, President Barack Obama issued a major disaster declaration for 12 Texas counties. As a result, federal assistance has been extended to Austin, Brazoria, Brazos, Fort Bend, Grimes, Hidalgo, Hood, Montgomery, San Jacinto, Travis, Waller, and Washington counties.
Texans who sustained property damage as a result of the severe storms and flooding are urged to register with FEMA, as they may be eligible for federal and state disaster assistance. People can register online at www.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 6am to 10pm seven days a week. Flood survivors are also encouraged to call the FEMA hotline to report their damage. Other flooding resources may be found on the State Bar of Texas website at www.texasbar.com/disasters.
Low-interest disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration 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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or visiting SBA’s website at disasterloan.sba.gov/ela. Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals may call (800) 877-8339.
For more information on Texas recovery, visit the disaster web page at www.fema.gov/disaster/4272, Twitter at www.twitter.com/femaregion6, and the Texas Division of Emergency Management website www.txdps.state.tx.us/dem. Visit www.fema.gov/texas-disaster-mitigation for publications and reference material on rebuilding and repairing safer and stronger.
Beware of Fraud
Both FEMA and the Texas Attorney General’s Office are warning Texans of 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. Texans 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 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 toll-free FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline at (866) 720-5721. Complaints may also be made to local law enforcement agencies.
The following organizations have joined forces to provide a toll-free phone line for Texas disaster victims to request free legal assistance and to connect with volunteer attorneys to handle cases arising from the recent severe weather: