At the six-month milestone, this race is not over
Superstorm Sandy is a marathon not a sprint, and six months later we are still running.
To date over 4,000 storm victims have received free civil legal services from NYLAG – services that have helped them gain access to benefits, avoid myriad pitfalls, address injustices and begin to rebuild their lives. Due to our flexible funding streams, NYLAG is able to serve not only the abject poor, but also low-income clients, as well as undocumented immigrants. But the race is far from over. At the six-month milestone, our work is shifting from advising clients in immediate crises to helping them resolve more complex, long-term legal problems – and handle the huge volume of requests as these problems become more widespread and entrenched. Here is some of what we are seeing:
- Approximately 60% of the renters and homeowners NYLAG has assisted with FEMA applications received less than half of the amount to which we believe they are entitled, requiring an appeal.
- We are beginning to see substantial numbers of recoupment notices issued by FEMA to disaster victims, who the agency believes it improperly paid – a number we expect to go up.
- 50% of our clients with private insurance complain that their insurance company is not responding in a timely manner, and even more are receiving offers 35-50% below what they need to repair their homes.
- NYLAG has been inundated with cases representing tenants involving landlords who fail to make repairs, grant rent abatements, end leases on uninhabitable apartments and return security deposits.
- For those who own their homes, many who were granted a period of forbearance on their mortgages are unable to pay the accumulated lump sum of back payments and are in danger of default.
- Many disaster victims are now saddled with debt, and may be forced to consider bankruptcy, while instances of contractor and other disaster-related fraud are on the rise.
- NYLAG has encountered a significant number of storm victims who lost their jobs after their employer sustained major storm damage, and now need help applying for public benefits such as food stamps, Public Assistance, and Medicare/Medicaid in order to avoid abject poverty.
- Many of the communities hardest hit by Sandy include high immigrant and non-English speaking populations, who out of fear and isolation are struggling to access benefits in the wake of the storm.
While client needs and levels of service continue to evolve, we know that the types of legal issues we are seeing on the ground will not be resolved in weeks, or even months. Other disasters have taught us that each legal problem can spark a cascade of related problems with consequences for years afterwards. NYLAG wants to make sure that no storm victim is forced to run this race alone.
Blog Post by Yisroel Schulman
President & Attorney-in-Charge