How we work
an integrated approach
Florida Legal Services advocates for vulnerable populations and their whole legal needs. Our attorneys practice in all of Florida's state and federal courts. We work on the most pressing and current issues faced by low-income and disenfranchised Floridians and embrace a Community Lawyering model of law practice.
We affect systemic change for:
Low-wage earners and disenfranchised job seekers
People in need of health care and prescription drugs
Domestic violence survivors
Children with special needs and at-risk youth
People seeking safe, fair and affordable housing
Institutionalized people (Florida Institutional Legal Services Project)
Immigrants and migrant workers (Migrant Farmworker Justice Project)
People facing racial, disability, gender identity or sexual orientation discrimination
As of October 5th, 2017, this page includes some announcements and resources for Hurricane Maria survivors.
legal advice and Resources
Florida's toll-free Disaster Legal Services Hotline Number is 866-550-2929. This is a dedicated Hurricane Irma disaster line, funded by FEMA and supported by the American Bar Association, the Florida Board of Governors, and the Florida Young Lawyers Division, where you may leave a message for a lawyer to return your call. For more information about this resource, click here.
Visit the Florida Law Help Website for additional disaster relief information and resources. Their website can help people in need find the best legal aid program for their specific issue and location.
On October 2, 2017, Governor Scott declared a State of Emergency to prepare for an influx of Maria survivors from Puerto Rico.
FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY (FEMA)
FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) offers assistance for sheltering (including paying for a hotel) and money for home repairs, housing, and other assistance (including medical, dental, funeral, essential household items, storage, and vehicle assistance). FEMA assistance does not have to be repaid.
FEMA Frequently Asked Questions (English)
FEMA Frequently Asked Questions (Spanish)
FEMA Frequently Asked Questions (Haitian Creole)
FEMA says that it is approving one-time $500 payments per household to Irma survivors who have immediate/critical needs because they are displaced from their primary dwelling due to the hurricane. FEMA defines immediate or critical needs as life-saving and life-sustaining items and may include water, food, first aid, prescriptions, infant formula, diapers, durable medical equipment, and fuel for transportation. See https://www.fema.gov/news-release/2017/08/29/critical-needs-assistance
FEMA’s Operation Blue Roof Program is now available in some counties to homeowners impacted by Irma. This program provides blue plastic sheeting to reduce further damage to property until permanent repairs can be made.
Click here for a list of hotels participating in FEMA's transitional sheltering assistance. You must have applied for and be approved by FEMA for this benefit in order to qualify.
The National Employment Law Project (NELP) has prepared a Hurricane Irma fact sheet with basic information about Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA). To qualify for DUA, you must be out of work as a direct result of Irma and not qualify for regular Reemployment Assistance. DUA is available for weeks of unemployment beginning September 10, 2017 until March 17, 2018. DUA benefits do not have to be repaid.
You can also call 1-800-385-3920 Monday-Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. THE DEADLINE TO APPLY FOR DUA HAS BEEN EXTENDED UNTIL NOVEMBER 14, 2017.
TEMPORARY ASSISTANCE FOR NEEDY FAMILIES (TANF)
TANF pays money to low-income families with dependent children and pregnant women in their third trimester to help pay for rent, utilities, and other household expenses. TANF is not a disaster program but may help families who have been impacted by Irma. TANF benefits do not have to be repaid.
For Hurricane Maria evacuees, DCF has eased some eligibility requirements to accommodate for lost documentation. They should accept applicants' statements regarding immunizations, loss of income, and Learnfare if no other verification exists.
Medicaid pays for medically necessary services for low-income individuals and families. Medicaid is not a disaster program but may help families who have been impacted by Irma. Medicaid benefits do not have to be repaid.
Apply for Medicaid online. Or you can apply for Medicaid on a paper application that you can mail, fax, or return to your local Customer Service Center. Download the paper application here.
Hurricane Maria evacuees who report that they intend to reside in Florida for the foreseeable future will meet the Medicaid residency requirement. Residency is not contingent on the length of the stay. However, if the evacuee states that they are temporarily staying in Florida and have plans to return to Puerto Rico, the applicant will be ineligible. If an applicant lacks required verification, DCF states that “self-declaration or best available information for all technical and financial factors of eligibility will be accepted for evacuees, unless questionable.” In addition, for TANF,
The Florida KidCare program is extending the deadline to pay October Kidcare premiums for families who live in the 48 counties designated by FEMA as eligible for individual assistance. This extension only applies to the Healthy Kids program, MediKids, and children who receive state-subsidized coverage through the Children's Medicaid Services Managed Care Plan. Children on Medicaid are not included since there are no monthly premiums for that coverage. www.healthykids.org/hurricaneirma
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have instructed loan servicers to extend a 90-day forbearance due to Irma. http://www.freddiemac.com/about/hurricane-relief.html
Florida Virtual School (FLVS) will provide remote access to educational resources to all Florida students who have been displaced by Hurricane Irma. Go to www.flvs.net to begin the registration process or email firstname.lastname@example.org for special accommodations. This does not replace Florida’s obligations under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.
On October 5th, DOE announced efforts to assist Puerto Rican Maria survivors, including not only that Florida will accept 20,000 Puerto Rican students into Florida Virtual School (FLVS) whether students are still in Puerto Rico or in Florida, but also that it will enroll displaced K-12 students in local schools.
Victims of Hurricane Irma may qualify for tax relief from the Internal Revenue Service.
The disaster declaration permits the IRS to postpone certain deadlines for taxpayers who reside or have a business in the disaster area. For instance, certain deadlines falling on or after Sept. 4, 2017 and before Jan. 31, 2018, are granted additional time to file through Jan. 31, 2018. This includes taxpayers who had a valid extension to file their 2016 return that was due to run out on Oct. 16, 2017. It also includes the quarterly estimated income tax payments originally due on Sept. 15, 2017 and Jan. 16, 2018, and the quarterly payroll and excise tax returns normally due on Oct. 31, 2017. It also includes tax-exempt organizations that operate on a calendar-year basis and had an automatic extension due to run out on Nov. 15, 2017. In addition, penalties on payroll and excise tax deposits due on or after Sept. 4, 2017, and before Sept. 19, 2017, will be abated as long as the deposits are made by Sept. 19, 2017.
If an affected taxpayer receives a late filing or late payment penalty notice from the IRS that has an original or extended filing, payment or deposit due date that falls within the postponement period, the taxpayer should call the telephone number on the notice to have the IRS abate the penalty.
The IRS automatically identifies taxpayers located in the covered disaster area and applies automatic filing and payment relief. But affected taxpayers who reside or have a business located outside the covered disaster area must call the IRS disaster hotline at 866-562-5227 to request this tax relief.
legal assistance is critical...
Legal aid provides critical resources for all people surviving natural disasters. We help people find safe, secure housing, stand up against discrimination, navigate insurance claims, provide fraud protections, and assist with reproduction of wills or other lost life planning documents.
For low-income families, who often have little power or influence, any loss of property or income has a disproportionately heavy impact. Legal aid helps connect people with disaster recovery networks and obtain FEMA benefits and other insurance benefits. We also assist with Landlord/Tenant disputes and foreclosure problems.
SUPPLEMENTAL NUTRITION ASSISTANCE PROGRAM (SNAP)
Hurricane Maria survivors from Puerto Rico to apply for SNAP in Florida. The USDA says that participants from Puerto Rico must sign an affidavit stating that they understand that they cannot receive benefits from both Puerto Rico and Florida at the same time, and agreeing to close their Puerto Rico case as soon as possible. Households from Puerto Rico will be able to receive SNAP for 2 months subject to normal eligibility criteria for SNAP.
The Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) runs SNAP, which used to be known as “Food Stamps.” There are 3 different ways that this program may be able to help you buy food. SNAP benefits do not have to be repaid.
1. Disaster SNAP (D-SNAP), which will help many people who were caught in Irma even if they would not normally qualify for SNAP. The Food for Florida Disaster Food Assistance Program is for families who are not currently receiving SNAP. We recommend that you pre-register the day before you go to a Food for Florida location and visit the local site on the indicated date for your last name. There are currently very long wait times for DSNAP applicants at its Food for Florida sites. Here is a link to DCF’s calendar of dates and times for applying for DSNAP by county and last name.
For current recipients, September/October benefits should have been automatically added to their EBT card within five days of their county’s Food for Florida site opening.
DSNAP applicants with disabilities who are unable to stand in line at Food for Florida sites can either appoint an authorized representative or request an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). To request an accommodation, contact your regional/local DCF office or local Client Relations Coordinator.
The most up-to-date and accurate information on SNAP benefits and changes will be posted on the ACCESS Florida webpage. Some misinformation may be circulating on social media that indicates that Disaster SNAP is available to any individual who lost power for more than two hours – this is FALSE. Additional scams and rumors may arise. Check the ACCESS Florida webpage for accurate information.
2. The second is Replacement SNAP, which provides current SNAP recipients with more SNAP benefits to pay for food they lost in Irma. Apply for replacement SNAP by filling out a Food Assistance Replacement Authorization form # CF-ES 3515. Return the form to DCF by mail, fax, or in person within 10 days of your loss. Find contact information for local DCF offices here.
3. Regular SNAP, if you are low income and in need of food assistance.
Apply for regular SNAP online here. You can also apply for regular SNAP on a paper application that can be mailed, faxed or returned to your local Customer Service Center. Click here to downloaded a paper form.
Current food assistance households in the following counties lost power for four or more hours and will automatically receive 40% of their food assistance allotment for September 2017 to replace food loss. Households that experienced a greater loss than 40% will be required to submit documentation (e.g., affidavits, photos, etc). Contact FLS if you experience roadblocks in obtaining this additional assistance. This rule applies to counties designated by FEMA as eligible for individual assistance.
HURRICANE FOOD PACKAGES
Persons impacted by Irma can get food packages through the Disaster Household Distribution (DHD) program run by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in collaboration with Feeding Florida and Farm Share and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This is a short-term program until D-SNAP is implemented. Not all counties are participating yet.
You do not have to apply for Hurricane Food Packages and no documentation is needed. Simply go to your local distribution location at the specified time to get a food package. For locations and times, go to: http://www.freshfromflorida.com/Divisions-Offices/Food-Nutrition-and-Wellness/HurricaneFoodPackages
Points of Distribution are locations where the public may go to pick up emergency supplies such as shelf-stable meals and water.
Call 2-1-1 for general shelter advice. If the call fails, text IRMA to 898-211 for help by text.
Visit the national Disaster Legal Aid Website
The Florida Disaster Website provides resources for shelters by county, evacuation zones, traffic updates, road closures, and power outages. Florida Disaster Website and Florida Emergency Information Line - 1-800-342-3557
FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF FINANCIAL SERVICES CONSUMER HELPLINE
DFS STORM HOTLINE
AMERICAN RED CROSS
Migrant Farmworker Justice Project
The Migrant Farmworker Justice Project (MFJP) provides legal assistance to farmworkers working in Florida, including migrant or seasonal farmworkers and temporary agricultural workers under the H-2A visa program. MFJP also provides legal representation to temporary non-agricultural workers under the H-2B visa program and represents clients with work-related legal issues in federal and state courts or administrative proceedings, such as unpaid wages, violations of working and housing conditions, breach of employment contract matters, employment discrimination, and unemployment insurance. MFJP works closely with community services organizations serving the farmworker community throughout Florida.
Florida Institutional Legal Services Project
The Florida Institutional Legal Services (FILS) Project is dedicated to protecting and advancing the rights of indigent people in state custody by providing high quality legal services. FILS also works to end mass incarceration in Florida and the reliance on the criminal justice system to resolve social issues. FILS represents juveniles, immigrants, inmates, prisoners and other detainees in a wide variety of state and federal institutions. Our advocates represent the institutionalized and the recently released in individual cases, class actions, and impact litigation. We educate the public about institutional conditions and provide technical assistance to other attorneys and advocates. Maximizing our relatively small resources, FILS litigates proactively to reform existing law. FILS strives to empower our clients, who enjoy the fewest protections and least access to legal resources.
The FILS Project also publishes the Florida Manual for Incarcerated Parents. This Manual is designed to help parents who are incarcerated in Florida prisons and jails understand their rights and responsibilities as parents. FILS encourages the widest distribution of this manual. You are welcome to photocopy or reproduce this material, but if you do, please copy the manual in its entirety and please do not charge a fee for the copies.
Our state-wide Health Advocacy project works with all Florida Legal Services projects to increase Florida families' access to physical and mental health care and prescription drugs. Our advocates advance our priorities through legislative advocacy, collaboration with other community stakeholders, and impact and class action litigation.
Domestic Violence Hotline
Our attorneys work in collaboration with Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence to provide state-wide legal assistance to victims of domestic violence. Additionally, we provide training to other DV advocates on a range of civil legal issues affecting DV victims. Our attorneys use their substantive expertise to identify and address systems, laws and policies which work against DV victims and their children staying safe and achieving economic security.
Fair and Affordable Housing
Our Fair and Affordable Housing project works statewide to preserve affordable housing, support the creation of new affordable housing in areas of opportunity and to promote fair housing for vulnerable populations. Our advocates advance our priorities through legislative advocacy, collaboration with other community stakeholders, and impact and class action litigation.
Our Economic Opportunity Project strengthens the economic opportunities of low-income and disenfranchised Floridians. We secure the safety net that protects vulnerable Floridians through effective and innovative systemic strategies to advance public policy and law. We believe that economic opportunity is the cornerstone to preventing poverty.
Our children’s advocacy project is dedicated to ensuring that all Florida’s children receive the opportunities, supports, and services they need to lead safe, healthy, and productive lives. Our advocates engage in strategic litigation, as well as legislative and administrative advocacy at both the state and federal levels, to advance the rights of children and youth and improve government systems and programs designed to serve children.
Advocate Training Initiatives
We provide trainings and conferences for legal aid organizations, pro bono attorneys, and advocates throughout the state of Florida.
Visit this page of the Florida Advocate website for information about upcoming training events in Florida.
statewide resources for legal advocates (Fladvocate.org)
Florida Legal Services is an Equal Opportunity Employer
Our policy is to provide a fair and equal employment opportunity for associates and job applicants regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, age, marital status or disability. FLS does not condone or tolerate an atmosphere of intimidation or harassment of any form and requires the cooperation of all associates in maintaining a discrimination and harassment-free atmosphere.
Hurricanes Irma and Maria: Disaster Relief Informational Fact Sheets
Huracan Maria Asistencia Alimentos-SNAP