Iowa Legal Aid receives $1.4 million to help derecho victims


Iowa Legal Aid will receive more than $1.4 million from the Legal Services Corporation to help provide legal services to low-income people who were impacted by the August 2020 derecho.

The nonprofit corporation, which pays for civil legal aid for low-income people, is also awarded an additional $34,577 to reimburse Iowa Legal Aid for services related to the derecho.

The Iowa organization is one of 19 across the country receiving grants for natural disasters that happened in 2020 and 2021, according to a news release from the Legal Services Corporation.

Congress included $40 million for the nonprofit in a $28.6 billion emergency supplemental appropriation attached to the September 2021 continuing resolution to fund the government in fiscal 2022.

Nick Smithberg, executive director of Iowa Legal Aid, said Thursday they are grateful for the additional funding.

The money, he said, will allow them to hire additional staff — paralegals and lawyers — in the Cedar Rapids regional office and in Des Moines. They also will use the funding to engage more legal volunteers and conduct community building and outreach with Iowa’s disaster response groups.

Lawyers aren’t the first thing people think about needing when a natural disaster strikes but disasters bring many legal challenges, Smithberg said.

Many times, people who have storm damage to their homes need help with a title so they can receive assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. They may need help replacing documents or with insurance claims and with contractor fraud or scams.

Smithberg said he didn’t have any statistics for the number of derecho cases Legal Aid has handled, but hopes to do that once additional staff is hired.

The recovery process, he said, will continue for a long time. The last legal aid cases related to the 2008 historic flood weren’t closed until 2015, he said.

“Low-income people who confront civil legal issues in the wake of natural disasters face an uphill battle, and they shouldn’t have to go it alone,” Ronald S. Flagg, president of Legal Services Corporation, said in a statement.

“We are grateful that Congress recognizes the need for legal assistance in these recovering communities and provided this funding that will help our neighbors repair and stay in their homes, obtain key identification documents, apply for benefits and so much more.”

Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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