LSC, Nebraska and Iowa Legal Aid Groups Introduce Disaster Response Grants, Rural Legal Program

July 10, 2015

LSC, Nebraska and Iowa Legal Aid Groups Introduce Disaster Response Grants, Rural Legal Program

WASHINGTON, DC -- Legal Services Board Chair John Levi will join leaders of Legal Aid of Nebraska, Iowa Legal Aid, and state and local officials on July 15 in Omaha to discuss nearly $800,000 in LSC grants to bolster disaster response in those states and throughout the Midwest.

Levi will also announce that LSC is funding a new Initiative, the LSC Rural Summer Legal Corps, which will launch in the summer of 2016. Equal Justice Works, a nonprofit that recruits and trains public service lawyers, will administer this program, providing outreach to law schools around the country to select 30 exceptional law students who want to serve LSC civil legal aid providers in rural locations.

Both initiatives will benefit residents of the Midwest and rural communities throughout the country.
Survivors of floods, tornadoes and other disasters can face a host of legal challenges-- replacing legal identification papers, applying for disaster benefits, dealing with insurance claim issues, preventing unlawful evictions and foreclosures, and combating contractor scams.

The LSC grants from its privately funded Midwest Legal/Disaster Coordination Fund will support projects that develop coordinated plans between disaster preparedness organizations and legal service providers in the region.

"These grants will help to extend the significant role LSC and these grantees play, as they must, in responding to natural disasters in the Midwest," said Levi. "The funds will also go a long way in better integrating an essential legal component for low-income individuals into statewide disaster preparedness plans and developing new and innovative tools that can be used by other legal aid organizations across the country."

Both grants are for 20 months:

Legal Aid of Nebraska - $400,000 - Legal Aid of Nebraska will create an interactive web portal and a statewide legal disaster response training program for attorneys and other stakeholders to better prepare Nebraskans to access free legal services when disaster strikes. Legal Aid of Nebraska will host disaster preparedness workshops throughout the state, and work closely with local pro bono attorneys to provide free onsite legal aid services to disaster victims in afflicted areas. Legal Aid of Nebraska will also leverage its experience with automated forms preparation and online guidance for people without legal representation to be replicated in other regions.

"The funding for the disaster relief project is a game-changer for Nebraska," said Legal Aid of Nebraska Interim Executive Director Annette Farnan. "With this funding we're going to be able to help people in Nebraska when they are most in need."

Iowa Legal Aid - $367,700 - Using its extensive experience in disaster recovery, Iowa Legal Aid will develop mobile technology to help disaster survivors better reach legal aid programs after a disaster occurs. Iowa Legal Aid will partner with Pro Bono Net to adapt its mobile template for an application that provides disaster-related resources to clients and attorneys. In addition, Iowa Legal Aid will create a multi-component toolkit for use by other legal aid organizations across the country. The toolkit will help legal aid programs prepare in advance for the legal responses often needed after disasters and provide best practices for responding to a disaster, including assisting with long-term recovery. The project will help legal aid grantees cultivate relationships with their statewide disaster recovery community and develop training materials for legal and non-legal disaster responders.

"As a statewide organization that covers all 99 counties in Iowa, Iowa Legal Aid is well positioned to respond quickly to a disaster in any community at any time," said Iowa Legal Aid Executive Director Dennis Groenenboom. "Having coordinated successful responses to natural disasters in Iowa in the past, Iowa Legal Aid also embraces the challenge of coordinating with other emergency relief agencies and the private bar in putting together materials that can serve as a model for disaster relief responses for other programs across the country."

Rep. David Young (R-Iowa) applauded Iowa Legal Aid’s efforts:
"Last week I visited Iowa Legal Aid leadership and employees in Des Moines. They gave me an update on the critical work they have been doing for those in need. The services they provide are truly invaluable and I cannot thank them enough for how quickly they respond in times of crisis to care for our citizens."

The LSC Rural Summer Legal Corps is designed to help increase the availability of legal services to low-income people who live in rural areas. 
Providing legal services in rural areas is particularly challenging because of distance, lack of access to transportation, and lack of awareness of the kind of services offered by legal aid providers. Attorneys are often asked to travel several hours to appear in court with a client. Clients may lack access to internet services or be unable to find a local lawyer to help them. 

Rural Legal Corps students, who will be deployed for 10 weeks and receive a stipend for their work, will bolster the capacity of rural offices  while developing  skills in serving low-income clients and expanding their awareness of the legal needs of people in rural poverty.

The news conference begins at 1 p.m. at Legal Aid of Nebraska, 209 S. 19th Street, Suite 200, Omaha. 402-348-1069.

Legal Services Corporation (LSC) is an independent nonprofit established by Congress in 1974 to provide financial support for civil legal aid to low-income Americans. The Corporation currently provides funding to 132 independent nonprofit legal aid programs in every state, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories.