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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Pro bono attorneys to offer Florence victims assistance on FEMA appeals process

The Wilmington clinic will be held at Cape Fear Community College on Saturday, Feb. 9, where attorneys from across the state will assist hurricane victims in the FEMA appeals process.

A flooded neighborhood on Alexis Hales Road near the Black River in Currie, North Carolina, Wednesday, September 19, 2018. (Port City Daily photo | Mark Darrough)
A flooded neighborhood on Alexis Hales Road near the Black River in Currie five days after Hurricane Florence struck North Carolina’s southeastern coast. (Port City Daily photo | Mark Darrough)

WILMINGTON — Pro-bono attorneys from around the state will assist Hurricane Florence victims in filing FEMA appeals and reconsiderations during a free clinic at Cape Fear Community College (CFCC) on Saturday, Feb. 9, from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Two other clinics will be held in New Burn, Jan. 12, at Craven Community College and in Morehead City, Feb. 23, at Carteret Community College. Each clinic is open to all Florence victims in the state, regardless of income level or what city or county they reside in.

NC Pro Bono Resource Center is coordinating with Legal Aid NC and the North Carolina Bar Foundation to recruit attorneys from across the state for one-on-one, confidential consultations with hurricane victims.

‘You don’t need a lawyer to file a FEMA appeal, but having one definitely helps’

Volunteering attorneys will help victims appeal FEMA application denials or file appeals for more disaster assistance than they originally received. There is a 60-day window, from the day a FEMA letter was received, to make an appeal.

For those whose appeal has already been denied, attorneys will assist in filing reconsiderations if they can present compelling new evidence, like a delayed letter from their insurance company, to support their claim.

“You don’t need a lawyer to file a FEMA appeal, but having one definitely helps,” head of Legal Aid’s disaster relief efforts, Lesley Albritton, said. “The process can seem daunting, especially for those who are still struggling to recover. Having an expert by your side can take away a lot of that stress.”

At each clinic, Legal Aid attorneys will also lead information sessions open to the public. For the Feb. 9 clinic at CFCC, presentations will begin at 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

NC Pro Bono staff attorney Katherine Asaro said her organization was originally coordinating volunteers to work “Q&A tables” at disaster recovery centers in the region when they noticed a demand for those seeking assistance in the FEMA appeals process.

“It became apparent that the natural next step was to help people with FEMA appeals and reconsiderations,” Asaro said.

She said the clinics are part of a pilot program funded by a grant from the North Carolina State Bar’s IOLTA program and coordinated by NC Pro Bono.

“It’s a convergence of attorneys really wanting to help and then us being able to connect them with people who need help,” Asaro said. “These volunteers will provide a service that is critical to helping survivors get back on their feet, and it’s one that many couldn’t afford otherwise.”

According to Asaro, remote attorneys will take the cases of those who were present at the clinic but could not meet with an attorney due to time constraints.

Hurricane victims must register in advance to meet with a pro bono attorney at no cost. They can register at ncprobono.org/assistance. No registration is required to attend the educational presentations.

Those who register to meet with a pro bono attorney are asked to bring all relevant documents and a photo ID.

North Carolina attorneys who wish to volunteer their legal services can register here for full-clinic shifts, each from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Paralegals and law students can register here

“It’s horrible that something like this had to happen to have it go, but it’s a pleasure to watch how much people want to help,” Asaro said.

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