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Equal Justice Works Raises Visibility of Role of Legal Aid in Disaster Response and Preparedness

/ Blog Post

In March 2021, Equal Justice Works teamed up with the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division, American Red Cross, Pro Bono Net and the National Disaster Legal Aid Resource Center to launch the first-ever Disaster Resilience Awareness Month.

Each year millions of Americans experience at least one major disaster—windstorm, flood, hurricane, wildfire—and need the assistance of a lawyer to help navigate all the challenges that arise after a disaster. This past year, the pandemic has taught us all the added importance of preparedness and resiliency and the critical role that lawyers play in ensuring an equitable recovery for our most vulnerable populations after a disaster.

With Disaster Preparedness Month taking place in September amid hurricane and wildfire seasons, Equal Justice Works recognized an opportunity to increase visibility about disaster preparedness and resilience and bring it to the forefront of people’s minds much earlier in the year.

Throughout the month of March 2021, Equal Justice Works along with other leaders in the field highlighted the important role of lawyers in helping communities prepare for and recover from disasters and shared helpful resources for disaster survivors and lawyers.

As part of Disaster Resilience Awareness Month, Fellows in the Equal Justice Works Disaster Resilience Program hosted a series of virtual trainings in partnership with various organizations, government agencies and legal services providers, to educate communities on their legal rights before, during and after a disaster and to empower attorneys to take action in their communities. These trainings covered a range of legal issues:

Immigration

  • Fellow Robert Flores at YMCA International spoke with South Texas Office for Refugees about disaster preparedness and recovery issues and barriers facing refugees and new arrivals. Read the recap here.
  • Fellow Maria Vazquez at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, along with Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative and BakerRipley, shared information on how to assist immigrant individuals in the disaster preparedness and recovery process. Read the recap

Housing

  • Fellow Stephanie Duke of Disability Rights Texas spoke with the National Low Income Housing Coalition about housing assistance options following a disaster. Read the recap here.
  • Fellow Meghan Smolensky at Lone Star Legal Aid teamed up with AARP to share information on title clearing and how to legally protect your property and assets before a disaster hits. Read the recap here.

Consumer

  • Fellow Stephanie Duke teamed up with Consumer Action to share consumer resources and tips such as addressing ID theft, how to protect yourself as a disaster survivor, and potential protections as a beneficiary of an insurance policy. Read the recap here.

FEMA/SBA

  • Fellow alum Brittanny Perrigue Gomez at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid and Fellow Brianna M. Williams at Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida discuss how Small Business Administration (SBA) Loans can help people after a disaster strikes. Read the recap here.
  • Fellow Hannah Dyal of Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid spoke with FEMA to discuss FEMA benefits available to those impacted by disasters. Read the recap here.
  • Fellow alum Brittanny Perrigue Gomez and Linda Anderson Stanley, senior manager of Equal Justice Works Disaster Resilience Program, partnered with Pro Bono Net, the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division Disaster Legal Services Program, and disaster legal aid attorneys from across the country to convene a roundtable on best practices and strategies used in responding to weather-related emergencies during the COVID-19 pandemic. Read the recap here.

Accessibility

  • Fellow Stephanie Duke spoke with the American Red Cross about its inclusive practices and discussed functional and access needs for individuals and families and how the Red Cross can accommodate those needs. Read the recap here.

“I appreciate all the Equal Justice Works Fellows devoting themselves to serving the needs of individuals and communities seeking support in response to a disaster,” said Timothy E. Sander, executive vice president, chief administrative officer & general manager, Legal Compliance and Human Resources at Sumitomo Corporations of Americas, and Equal Justice Works 2020 Annual Dinner Steering Committee member.

I appreciate all the Equal Justice Works Fellows devoting themselves to serving the needs of individuals and communities seeking support in response to a disaster.

Timothy E. Sander /
Sumitomo Corporations of Americas

As a result of the success of these trainings, AARP will continue to partner with Fellow Meghan Smolensky and Equal Justice Works to release monthly webinars aimed at helping disaster survivors understand their legal rights and the resources available to them. These webinars will take place the first Friday of every month and can be accessed on Lone Star Legal Aid’s Facebook page.

Thanks to the generous support of all our partners, host organizations, and supporters who joined us in making the first-ever Disaster Resilience Awareness Month a success! Equal Justice Works plans to host this awareness month every March and will continue to find opportunities to shine a light on the complex legal needs of disaster survivors and the important role that lawyers have in ensuring that all disaster survivors have access to the resources and support they need to recover and be resilient for the future.

To access a playlist of all trainings from the Equal Justice Works Disaster Resilience Fellows, visit here. If you’d like more information about the Disaster Resilience Program, visit here.

Learn more about becoming an Equal Justice Works Fellow