In 2018, Legal Services Corporation (LSC) launched its Disaster Task Force to highlight and address the legal aid component of disaster response and recovery. Co-chaired by Judge Jonathan Lippman, of counsel in our New York office, the Task Force includes more than 60 emergency management experts, representatives from LSC-funded legal aid programs, members of the judiciary, and other leading stakeholders. The Task Force’s work has culminated in a comprehensive report, a playbook for legal aid to follow in the event of a natural disaster.
The firm, led by New York partner Robert Malionek, serves as pro bono counsel to the Task Force, including conducting thousands of hours of research and helping to draft the final report. The report was release during an event at the Hart Senate Office Building, with participation from LSC Board Chair John G. Levi and ABA President Judy Perry Martinez as well as LSC Vice Chair and Harvard’s 300th Anniversary University Professor Martha Minow. Read the report here.
Low-income survivors are typically the hardest hit by a disaster and frequently have pressing legal needs. They may require help obtaining copies of important documents such as birth certificates, driver’s licenses, and Social Security cards to apply for or restore benefits and support. Vulnerable people who need housing after an emergency are more susceptible to scams and price-gouging. Disasters also increase needs in the core areas of practice for legal aid, such as public benefits, domestic violence prevention, consumer law, and fraud prevention.
Legal aid providers are key to addressing the legal issues that arise following a disaster. The recommendations offered in the Disaster Task Force’s report highlight concrete steps to build a systematic, coordinated, and sustainable approach to helping low-income individuals, families, and communities prepare for, respond to, and recover from a disaster.
Several of the report’s recommendations highlight the importance of building partnerships in both preparing for and responding to disasters. The report also stresses the need for greater preparedness on every level, and encourages organizations to maintain comprehensive, up-to-date disaster plans and urges states to adopt model court reforms to facilitate post-disaster recovery.