Louisiana’s legal community has grown accustom to offering pro bono legal assistance to Louisiana storm victims. After addressing foremost concerns like shelter, food, water, and clothing, disaster victims are left to grapple with more intricate setbacks like insurance claims and FEMA appeals, landlord-tenant disputes, contractor fraud and contract disputes, custody and domestic disagreements, consumer issues, and lost legal documents, to name a few.

The 2017 hurricane season has largely spared Louisiana relative to other U.S. states like Texas and Florida, and U.S. territories like the USVIs and Puerto Rico, where millions were left without power and basic necessities weeks after Hurricane Maria. Louisiana lawyers are paying it forward and expanding a “disaster legal hotline”—normally reserved for low-income Louisiana residents—to help those devastated by the hurricanes in Puerto Rico and the USVIs.

Louisiana’s efforts are a leading example of a national program established in 1978 by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in partnership with the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division (ABA YLD) to provide pro bono disaster legal services to low-income survivors of a federally-declared disaster. When the Federal Government issues a disaster declaration in a particular state, FEMA and the ABA YLD, through the state’s young lawyer representative, coordinate with bar associations, legal aid groups, and law firms to implement the program, known as Disaster Legal Services (DLS). In Louisiana, the Disaster Legal Services program is administered with the Louisiana State Bar Association through the Louisiana Civil Justice Center (LCJC), which was formed after Hurricane Katrina and works to expand access to justice to low-income populations around Louisiana. The LCJC operates a year-round civil legal aid hotline, which is adapted to intake disaster-related calls for the Disaster Legal Services program.

the largest intake in the history of the Federal Disaster Legal Services program.

Louisiana displayed its pro bono capacity following the historic Baton Rouge flooding in August 2016, when more than 4,300 individuals called into the disaster legal hotline—the largest intake in the history of the Federal Disaster Legal Services program.

Louisiana’s legal community, all too familiar with disasters, is now graciously leveraging its experience to help our fellow Americans as their needs transition from “boots on the ground” to “suits on the ground.” Storm victims who qualify for Disaster Legal Services can contact the Louisiana Civil Justice Center at 1-800-310-7029.

A federal disaster declaration has been issued in Louisiana for Orleans and Livingston Parishes following the tornadoes and severe storms that hit South Louisiana on February 7, 2017. The declaration was issued on February 11, 2017, by President Donald Trump upon the request of Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards.

FEMA individual assistance will be available for residents and homeowners in Orleans and Livingston Parishes, including grants or low-cost loans for temporary housing, home repairs, and uninsured property losses, among other programs. To register with FEMA, visit DisasterAssistance.gov, call the FEMA Helpline at (800) 621-FEMA (3362), or download the FEMA mobile app.

Homeowners may be eligible for up to $200,000 to replace or repair their primary residence through the Home and Personal Property Loans program administered through the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). Homeowners and renters may be eligible for up to $40,000 to repair or replace damaged or destroyed personal property.

Businesses of any size and most private nonprofit organizations may be eligible for loans of up to $2 million to repair or replace real property, machinery, equipment fixtures, inventory, and leasehold improvements through the Business Physical Disaster Loans program administered through the SBA.

Small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives, and most private nonprofit organizations may be eligible for SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans to help meet working capital needs caused by the disaster, regardless of property damage. The SBA’s economic injury program extends beyond Orleans and Livingston Parishes, to the contiguous Louisiana Parishes of Ascension, East Baton Rouge, Jefferson, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Helena, St. John the Baptist, St. Tammany and Tangipahoa.

More details on the SBA programs, including loan details and interest rates, can be found at the SBA Fact Sheet for Louisiana Declaration #15045 & #15046.

FEMA has provided a summary of key federal aid programs that can be made available as needed under the disaster declaration.

A Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) is opening in Orleans Parish effective February 13, 2017, at East New Orleans Public Library, 5641 Read Blvd., New Orleans, LA 70127. Homeowners, renters, and businesses can visit the DRC to apply for or seek information regarding federal disaster assistance. Representatives will be on site from the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Small Business Administration, the City of New Orleans, and other volunteer groups and agencies.

FEMA can be reached by phone at (800) 621-FEMA (3362).

The SBA Customer Service Center can be reached by phone at (800) 659-2955.

Tom Cook’s article in the Baton Rouge Business Report provides helpful insight on the meaning and application of FEMA’s “substantial damage” standard to Baton Rouge homeowners affected by the August floods. Cook explains that determining “substantial damage” is a bit of “a mystery,” and that online research of the term may prove bewildering.

In short, Cook explains that affected structures are inspected by FEMA representatives who estimate damage to said structures in terms of a damage percentage. Using the percentage rating, FEMA determines an overall building damage calculation. FEMA compiles these determinations of damaged homes and provides them to municipal building departments for use in determining whether to issue a building permit with or without raising the damaged home’s slab elevation–a potentially costly endeavor for affected homeowners.

Ultimately, Cook points out that “the final decision lies with the municipalit[ies],” which Cook describes as having “worked hard to make the process as painless as possible.” Under this framework, Cook believes that very few homes will be rendered worthless due to costly slab elevation requirements.

Louisianans in parishes affected by August flooding now have until Monday, Nov.14, 2016, to register for federal disaster assistance. The State of Louisiana and FEMA advise that the deadline to apply for disaster assistance has been extended, so that all eligible residents have enough time to apply for assistance. Federal officials hope this additional time will ensure that everyone affected by the August severe storms and flooding has an opportunity to register for FEMA assistance. The goal is to reach all flood survivors who still need help.

Registration is open to survivors in Acadia, Ascension, Avoyelles, East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Evangeline, Iberia, Iberville, Jefferson Davis, Lafayette, Livingston, Pointe Coupee, St. Helena, St. James, St. Landry, St. Martin, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, Vermilion, Washington, West Baton Rouge and West Feliciana Parishes.

This new deadline also applies to homeowners, renters and businesses submitting applications for low-interest disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).

FEMA mitigation specialists will be stationed at the Home Depot at 9460 Cortana Blvd. in Baton Rouge from October 17, 2016 through Oct. 29, 2016 to answer questions, offer home improvement tips, and explain methods to prevent and lessen damage from future disasters. Free reference booklets on protecting your home from flood damage will also be available. More information can be found online.

  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”) announced that policyholders under the National Flood Insurance Program (“NFIP”)  will be granted a 60-day extension to file a Proof of Loss with supporting documentation for claims related to the August 2016 flooding. This doubled the previous 60-day deadline imposed by the NFIP from the date of the flood event. See the FEMA announcement regarding the 60-day extension here.
  • A Proof of Loss package should include an itemization of damaged items, with photographs, receipts, and other supporting documentation evidencing the value of the damaged items. A Proof of Loss is necessary for the NFIP to make payment on a claim. You can read more about a Proof of Loss here.
  • Understanding flood maps can help assess risk for your residence and business. If you do not currently have flood insurance with the NFIP, or would like to learn more about different types of residential and commercial coverage, you can learn more at www.floodsmart.gov, which also contains various policyholder resources.
  • Contact your insurance company or call FEMA with any questions: 1-800-621-FEMA (3362), Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

In response to the August 2016 flooding event, there have been several articles about the Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”) regulations, the National Flood Insurance Program (“NFIP”), the base flood elevation requirements relating to a building damaged by flooding, and local government rebuilding requirements.  Please click here to read the client alert that will explain these programs and compliance requirements and the recent developments on the national and local levels, as FEMA and local governments in Louisiana respond to the August 2016 flood event.

 

FEMA has approved the Community Disaster Loan for Louisiana, which will provide aid to local governments affected by the historic flooding events of 2016 in South Louisiana. This program will provide loans directly to local governments that experienced substantial loss of tax and other revenue following the flooding. Funds provided through this program will be used on existing government functions or expansions to meet disaster needs.

These loans are for five years but can be extended to ten. They may not exceed the lesser of 25% of the local government’s operating budget for the fiscal year in which the disaster occurred or a cumulative estimated revenue loss for the fiscal year in which the disaster occurred and the following three fiscal years. If the estimated revenue loss for the fiscal year of the disaster is at least 75% of the applicant government’s operating budget for that fiscal year, the loan may be 50% of the local government’s operating budget for the fiscal year of the disaster, but in no event shall it exceed $5 million.

The East Baton Rouge City-Parish government has launched the Private Property Debris Removal program, authorizing debris removal teams to collect flood debris extending 30 feet beyond the public right-of-ways and onto private properties. FEMA authorized the City-Parish to move forward with the program as long as homeowners sign a right-of-entry agreement. To participate, homeowners must provide proof of homeownership to a city-parish Private Property Debris Removal program coordinator and complete a right-of-entry agreement. Residents can apply for the program online or in person at the Private Property Debris Removal Application Center, 10201 Celtic Drive, Suite B.

Satellite applications centers have also been established at the following locations:

•Chaneyville Community Center, 13211 Jackson Road

•Pride Library, 13600 Pride-Port Hudson Road

•Jewel J. Newman Community Center, 2013 Central Road

•Charles R. Kelly Community Center, 3535 Riley St.

•Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, 4000 Gus Young Ave.

•Jones Creek Branch Library, 6222 Jones Creek Road

•Leo S. Butler Community Center, 950 E. Washington St.

•Fairwood Branch Library, 12910 Old Hammond Hwy.

Applications are being accepted from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week at each location and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Jewel J. Newman Community Center location. To apply online, residents need to download and complete a right-of-entry agreement and email it to BRdebris@thompsoncs.net with the subject that reads “your name-your address,” along with a copy of a valid Louisiana ID matching the property address.