New Mexico Legal Aid Receives $1.9M For Natural Disaster Recovery
The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) announced today that it is awarding $1,912,440 to New Mexico Legal Aid (NMLA) to support the delivery of legal services to low-income New Mexicans impacted by the record-setting wildfires, flooding, mudflows and straight-line winds that the state faced in 2022.
NMLA is one of 14 organizations around the country receiving grants for this purpose. LSC, the largest funder of civil legal aid in the United States, received $20 million of supplemental funding in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023 passed by Congress to support this widespread natural disaster response.
NMLA Executive Director and attorney Sonya G. Bellafant said the courts had alerted NMLA to the “unmet need in the northern region resulting from the devastating fires. This LSC Disaster grant will allow us to mobilize attorneys to advocate, educate and represent those impacted by the fires in a meaningful way. Providing a benefit to the impacted communities directly and holistically will help streamline access to other local organizations and resources. As a result of this grant, New Mexico Legal Aid will be able to bring resources directly to the population in immediate need of legal assistance.”
After extreme weather events, victims often require immediate legal assistance to file for FEMA and insurance benefits, deal with landlord/tenant issues, access unemployment, or apply for replacements of important documents needed for education and medical benefits. Legal issues caused by disasters can persist for years. Cases involving FEMA appeals, bankruptcy, public housing and domestic violence can emerge, and disaster victims are vulnerable to predatory scams and fraud.
“Disaster response involves so much more than physical repairs, as millions of Americans find out each year when their home or family is impacted by one of these devastating events,” said LSC President Ron Flagg. “Legal aid providers are integral in helping low-income families access vital services and resources that set them on the path to recovery.”
NMLA will use this grant to boost legal services for disaster survivors. The funds will support the addition of two dedicated project attorneys who will conduct intensive outreach to residents of geographically isolated communities. NMLA will conduct a coordinated outreach campaign to increase awareness of the availability of free legal services and education. It will also collaborate with community organizations to distribute educational materials, conduct on-site clinics, train community partners’ staff on spotting legal issues, and create a referral process for individuals with legal needs.
In response to a surge in demand, NMLA will also work with the local courts to create and distribute self-represented litigant materials related to property law, small estate probates, and alternative documentation for disaster claims. It will provide direct representation, advice, and counsel, as well as brief services related to document replacement, boundary disputes, small estate probates, quiet title actions and all other legal issues resulting from the disaster. It will also purchase a mobile vehicle to boost its outreach efforts to disaster survivors.
Senator Martin Heinrich, Representative Melanie Stansbury (NM-1) and Representative Gabe Vasquez (NM-2) commended NMLA on the grant and its vital disaster relief work.
“In the midst of recovering from last year’s devastating wildfire season and its aftermath, the last thing New Mexico families need are legal headaches. This funding to the New Mexico Legal Aid will provide welcome and needed free legal assistance to families as they continue to rebuild,” said Sen. Heinrich. “I will also continue pushing to make sure those recovering from the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fire receive the full benefit of the federal support our delegation fought to secure – and urge New Mexicans to continue working with the FEMA Claims Office early and often.”
“I am thrilled the Legal Services Corporation will be awarding the New Mexico Legal Aid Association $1.5 million to help with disaster relief,” said Rep. Stansbury. “As New Mexico faces worsening drought and more frequent wildfires, this funding will be critical to helping families across our state receive the care they need. It’s crucial we collaborate to get disaster victims the resources needed to rebuild their lives.”
“New Mexicans are still recovering from the worst fire in our state’s history that was caused by the US Forest Service. I have called on the US Forest Service repeatedly to expedite relief to those victims, but still very few have actually received that relief,” said Rep. Gabe Vasquez. “Thank you to Legal Services Corporation for stepping up and awarding this $1.5 million grant to New Mexico Legal Aid to assist survivors of the wildfires and extreme weather. We have a long road to recovery, and this grant and support will help New Mexicans come back stronger.”
Release from Legal Services Corporation (LSC), an independent nonprofit established by Congress in 1974 to provide financial support for civil legal aid to low-income Americans. The Corporation currently provides funding to 131 independent nonprofit legal aid programs in every state, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories.