CHARLESTON – A toll-free legal aid hotline provided by legal agencies is now available for victims of flooding in West Virginia.
The toll-free legal hotline can be reached at 877-331-4259.
It is available to connect low-income individuals affected by the disaster with local legal aid providers who can help with a number of things, including: assistance securing FEMA and other government benefits available to disaster victims; assistance with life, medical and property insurance claims; help with home repair contracts and contractors; replacement of wills and other important legal documents lost or destroyed in the disaster; consumer protection issues such as price-gouging and avoiding contractor scams in the rebuilding process; counseling on mortgage-foreclosure problems; and counseling on landlord-tenant problems.
The hotline is available 24-hours a day, seven days a week. Callers can also leave a message at any time.
Individuals who qualify for assistance will be matched with West Virginia lawyers who have volunteered to provide free, limited legal help.
Victims should be aware that there are some limitations on disaster legal services. For example, assistance is not available for cases that will produce a fee, such as those cases where attorneys are paid part of the settlement by the court. These cases are referred to a local lawyer referral service.
Ten of West Virginia’s 55 counties have been approved to receive federal assistance in the wake of major storms and flooding that began last month. Those counties are Clay, Fayette, Greenbrier, Kanawha, Monroe, Nicholas, Pocahontas, Roane, Summers and Webster.
People who sustained property damage as a result of the severe storms and flooding are urged to register with FEMA, as they may be eligible for federal and state disaster assistance. To register, go to disasterassistance.gov or, on a smartphone, go to m.fema.gov.
Applicants may also call 800-621-3362 or 800-462-7585 (TTY) from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week.
Flood survivors are also encouraged to call the FEMA hotline to report their damage.
Other flooding resources may be found on the Legal Aid of West Virginia website at www.lawv.net.
Low-interest disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration are available for eligible applicants. SBA helps businesses of all sizes, including landlords, private nonprofit organizations, homeowners and renters fund repairs or rebuilding efforts and cover the cost of replacing lost or damaged personal property. Disaster loans cover losses not fully compensated by insurance or other recoveries.
For more information, individuals may contact SBA’s Disaster Assistance Customer Service Center by calling 800-659-2955, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or visiting SBA’s website at disasterloan.sba.gov/ela. Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals may call 800-877-8339.
Both FEMA and the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office are warning West Virginians of the risk of fraud and common scams in the wake of the severe weather.
Common post-disaster fraud practices include phony housing inspectors, fraudulent building contractors, bogus pleas for disaster donations and fake offers of state or federal aid. West Virginians are urged to ask questions, and to require identification when someone claims to represent a government agency.
Survivors should also keep in mind that state and federal workers never ask for or accept money, and always carry identification badges with a photograph.
There is no fee required to apply for or to receive disaster assistance from FEMA, the U.S. Small Business Administration or the state. Additionally, no state or federal government disaster assistance agency will call to ask for your financial account information. Unless you place a call to the agency yourself, you should not provide personal information over the phone as it can lead to identity theft.
Those who suspect fraud can call the FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721. Complaints may also be made to the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office Consumer Protection Hotline at 800-368-8808.
The toll-free legal hotline was put together by the West Virginia State Bar, Legal Aid of West Virginia, the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division, Federal Emergency Management Agency and National Disaster Legal Aid Online.