Texas RioGrande Legal Aid receives grant to help communities prepare legally for disaster

Austin, Texas — TRLA has received a $7,275 grant from the Texas Bar Foundation for its PreDisaster Community Education Project.

The funds will facilitate development of online resources and community presentations intended to inform low-income Texans about common disaster-related legal problems, and especially what preparation now may help them avoid problems in the future.

This project is an outgrowth of TRLA’s experience working with disaster survivors after Hurricane Harvey and earlier disasters.

“We have found that many people recognize the problems that arise after a disaster, but do not connect that to the existence of legal solutions,” says Tracy Figueroa, attorney and TRLA’s Disaster Assistance Group Coordinator who will oversee the project.

TRLA hopes to help the communities it serves better understand the types of legal solutions that may be available, and encourage individuals to seek certain legal assistance up front, instead of waiting until a disaster occurs.

“For example,” says Figueroa, “survivors often have to prove they own their homes in order to receive financial assistance with repairs.

In the midst of a crisis, survivors may struggle to follow through with legal representation to clear title.

Some never get past that obstacle and just lose out on financial assistance they should have been eligible to receive. Having that knowledge before a crisis occurs should help some people get the help they need now.”

The online resources and presentations for community members will focus on what to do before a disaster to head off or minimize legal problems that may arise afterward, and what survivors can do during and after a disaster to put themselves in the best position to recovery.

Examples of the topics are:

The types of steps that individuals may need to take to clear title to their homes (including probate and inheritance proceedings); Real estate transactions; Special issues related to mobile home title; What to know about insurance policies; What financial assistance programs are commonly available after disaster; Protections for renters.

The project will target the communities in TRLA’s service area that are at the highest risk for disaster, including the Coastal Bend, which was affected by Hurricane Harvey in August 2017; the Rio Grande Valley, which was most recently the subject of a federal declaration of disaster in July 2018; and Central Texas, which experienced significant flooding last month.

Since 2015, each of these areas has been the subject of multiple federal declarations of disaster.

TRLA will work with community partners to identify the most pressing concerns to be addressed in these areas.

TRLA is grateful for the Texas Bar Foundation’s support to provide community education that will address the legal needs that accompany a disaster.

Since its inception in 1965, the Texas Bar Foundation has awarded more than $19 million in grants to law-related programs. Supported by members of the State Bar of Texas, the Texas Bar Foundation is the nation’s largest charitably-funded bar foundation.

Established in 1970, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Inc. (TRLA) is a nonprofit organization that provides free legal services to about 23,000 low-income Texans in 68 counties. TRLA’s mission is to promote the dignity, self-sufficiency, safety and access to justice for low-income Texans by providing high-quality legal assistance and related educational services.