Many of us in Florida felt the effects of Hurricane Irma – even if it was just being without power for a few days – but for Floridians who were already struggling, or who lost homes or jobs in the storm, the recovery is just beginning.
Many will be wrongly denied insurance and federal disaster benefits, taken advantage of by landlords who demand rent for housing that is no longer habitable, scammed by phony contractors, or unable to collect a final paycheck from an employer. Marginalized communities are facing challenges they cannot effectively solve alone.
Predicting the widespread civil legal problems that would arise, and the potential for damage to the legal aid infrastructure, the Foundation’s board set aside funds prior to the storm for disaster legal services grants, the first round of which we approved in early November.
The Foundation also set up the Florida Hurricane Legal Aid Fund. Donations have come in from close to home – including from members of The Florida Bar Board of Governors and other Florida Bar members – and from bar associations and bar foundations as far away as Oklahoma, Mississippi, Ohio, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. Nearly $40,000 has been raised thus far, along with a major gift from a private foundation, and we are extremely grateful.
The enormity of the need is evidenced in the Foundation’s new Hurricane Irma story map, a data-rich resource for understanding the impacts of the hurricane and the vulnerable populations who are likely to need civil legal aid to rebuild their lives. The map is now featured on our website, including on our Storm Aid page, www. TheFloridaBarFoundation.org/storm-aid, where visitors will also find the link to donate to the hurricane fund.
The hurricane also has added to the need for Florida attorneys to engage in pro bono work. Thankfully, the Florida Supreme Court has now approved amendments to The Florida Bar’s emeritus rule, which enables law professors, retired attorneys, and in-house counsel whose licenses are not currently active in Florida to volunteer their skills. The Foundation’s Pro Bono Partnerships Program will be working with The Florida Bar Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services and the Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice to reach out to lawyers in those categories to notify them of the many pro bono opportunities that await them, including those offered on FloridaProBonoMatters.org.
I offer my heartfelt thanks to all those who have supported our hurricane relief efforts and who are doing pro bono work to help needy Floridians in the wake of one of the worst natural disasters in our history.