Florida Bar Foundation makes $781,000 in disaster legal aid grants

disaster legal aid grants

Attorney Meena Jagannath, co-founder of Community Justice Project, speaks at a press conference held by residents of a Liberty City housing complex sitting adjacent to a hurricanedebris dump site. Residents concerned about vermin and other environmental safety issues want open lines of communication and greater accountability on the part of Miami-Dade County. Community Justice Project is among 15 legal aid organizations receiving funding in the first round of The Florida Bar Foundation’s disaster legal services grants.

The Florida Bar Foundation has awarded $781,000 in disaster grants to 15 legal aid organizations around the state to help them address the civil legal needs of Floridians affected by Hurricane Irma, as well as Puerto Ricans who have evacuated to Florida as a result of Hurricane Maria.

“The Foundation board set aside $500,000 for disaster legal services grants several days before Hurricane Irma made landfall in Florida and has been fundraising since that time through its Florida Hurricane Legal Aid Fund and other means to supplement those funds,” said Florida Bar Foundation President Jewel White, who is also the county attorney for Pinellas County. “We knew from past experience that Floridians would face significant civil legal problems in the months and years after the storm, and we knew they would need additional capacity to meet those needs.”

The grants to Bay Area Legal Services, Brevard County Legal Aid, CABA Pro Bono Legal Services, Community Justice Project, Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida, Dade Legal Aid, Florida Legal Services, Gulfcoast Legal Services, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, Legal Aid of Manasota, Legal Aid Service of Collier County, the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County, the Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association, the Seminole County Bar Association Legal Aid Society, and Three Rivers Legal Services are the first of what is expected to be at least two rounds of disaster grants.

client and attorney talking under tent at outdoor hurricane relief clinic

The Florida Bar Foundation has made $781,000 in disaster grants to 15 legal aid organizations.

A portion of the funds comes from a private foundation that recently made a significant grant to The Florida Bar Foundation to fund free civil legal aid to immigrants impacted by Hurricane Irma, marking the largest private grant The Florida Bar Foundation has received in its 61-year history. The grant funds from the private foundation are earmarked for immigrants in the 49 Florida counties declared federal-disaster areas, with funding priorities to include access to safe and affordable housing, health care and food, as well as employment, domestic violence, and other disaster recovery-related issues.

“We are truly honored to have been entrusted with the stewardship of these funds,” said Jennifer Wimberly, The Florida Bar Foundation’s director of grants. “Our long history as a funder of civil legal aid in Florida gives us the capacity to ensure the funds will be put to their highest possible use, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

In the wake of natural disasters, legal aid protects the rights of people who are, among other things: denied insurance and federal disaster benefits to which they are entitled; taken advantage of by landlords who demand rent for housing that is no longer habitable or who try to evict them unlawfully; scammed by phony or unscrupulous contractors; or unable to collect a final paycheck from an employer when laid off. Legal aid organizations also help those at risk of being left out of the recovery effort because they are part of a marginalized community.

As a resource for its grantees and others, The Florida Bar Foundation has published an online story map, a data resource regarding the impact of Hurricane Irma on Florida and the vulnerable populations who could potentially need civil legal aid in the recovery. With the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) expertise of the Self-Represented Litigation Network (SRLN), the Foundation has developed this interactive new story map at https://arcg.is/CCDzi, which provides access to geospatial data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Census Bureau and the Florida Department of Children and Families.

Anna Pippin, a Sanford mother of three, attended an Ask-A-Lawyer clinic hosted by disaster grantee Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida Oct. 23 after her home sustained damage during Hurricane Irma. “I was just looking for a friendly face, and someone to be honest and help guide me, and that’s exactly what I got,” Pippen said.

Users can click on the series of maps to see data for specific geographic areas regarding hurricane impacts, social vulnerability, housing and location affordability, FEMA applications, D-SNAP/Food for Florida applications, immigrant and limited English proficient populations, population below 125 percent of federal poverty level, renters and uninsured. The Foundation also worked with SRLN to develop an innovative Legal Vulnerability Index, which displays the sum of multiple at-risk indicators for each county’s population and is part of the story map.

Donations can still be made to the Florida Hurricane Legal Aid Fund at www.TheFloridaBarFoundation.org/storm. All proceeds from that fund will be added to future disaster legal services grants.

A complete list of the disaster legal services grants awarded to date can be found at www.TheFloridaBarFoundation.org/disaster-grants/