WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the American Bar Association (ABA), on behalf of its Young Lawyers Division (YLD), announced today that a new Memorandum of Agreement was signed increasing the reach and array of legal services delivered to low-income victims of major disasters.
Through this agreement, the YLD, when requested by FEMA, now has ?authority to coordinate and manage the delivery of legal services to disaster victims? by collaborating with other qualified organizations, such as the Legal Services Corporation, law firms, not-for-profit legal services providers, state and local bar associations, and pro bono organizations.
?Offering easily accessible legal services is a key part of FEMA?s mission to offer the best level of support to individuals affected by disasters,? said Carlos J. Castillo, assistant administrator for disaster assistance at FEMA. ?Coordinating with partners such as the ABA expands the range of assistance FEMA provides in support of our most important mission ? helping people recover from disasters as soon as possible.?
?This 2007 agreement represents a significant step forward in the systematic and coordinated delivery of legal services to victims of major disasters in America,? said ABA President William H. Neukom. ?We welcome the opportunity to collaborate with other groups in these efforts.?
Beginning with a 1978 agreement between FEMA and the ABA, volunteer attorneys working under the auspices of the ABA have coordinated the delivery of free legal assistance to disaster victims. When the president of the United States declares a ?major disaster? and authorizes Disaster Legal Services, the ABA YLD recruits and coordinates volunteer attorneys to assist in providing legal assistance through telephone hotlines and at disaster recovery centers.
Services rendered include assistance with insurance claims, counseling on landlord/tenant problems, assisting in consumer protection matters, remedies, and procedures, and the replacement of wills and other important legal documents destroyed in a major disaster.
Under the new agreement, volunteer attorneys also may provide assistance in securing FEMA and other governmental benefits available to disaster victims.
Over the past two years, volunteers working under the program have fielded more than 75,000 calls from 19 designated disasters, including the recent California wildfires. Volunteers have also aided victims of numerous other disasters, including hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Andrew and Isabel, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the September 11 terrorist attacks.
To view the agreement in full, visit: //www.abanet.org/disaster/docs/fema_aba_agreement_11_07.pdf.
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.