On June 6, the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) announced that the Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA) will receive $250,000 in grant funding to help low-income communities in Montana prepare for, respond to, and recover from natural disasters. Four other civil legal aid organizations in the Midwest - Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Arkansas - will also receive grant funding.
The grant will fund MLSA's Montana Legal Disaster Coordinated Program, which aims to make it easier for low income Montanans to access legal services in the aftermath of a disaster. The project will involve building a network of pro bono attorneys prepared to handle cases in the event of a disaster; improving MLSA's technology infrastructure to speed the amount of time it takes for a client to receive legal help from a pro bono attorney; and building a sustainable, statewide network of partners, including tribal, state, and county agencies, to provide guidance and feedback. These improvements will make it possible for MLSA to more quickly mobilize pro bono legal services to respond to increased client need when a disaster strikes.
Making it easier for individuals to access civil legal services is crucial in Montana, where disasters such as severe winter storms, floods, fire, and drought occur regularly, and can easily exacerbate many of the legal problems commonly faced by low income individuals. Following a disaster, survivors may need help securing temporary housing, filing insurance claims, replacing important legal documents, or negotiating with landlords to make necessary repairs, while issues with housing, public benefits, employment, or family law are often made worse as individuals struggle to cope with increased instability. By addressing these issues, legal aid helps survivors get back on their feet.
The Montana Legal Coordinated Disaster Program will be integrated into MLSA's larger Pro Bono Project, which provides legal assistance to thousands of Montanans each year. In 2018, pro bono attorneys handled 1,146 cases through MLSA, donating a total of 4,218 hours. Through the improvements made under this grant, MLSA anticipates that the number clients able to receive pro bono services will increase, helping to expand access to legal services to people at their most vulnerable.
To learn more about the funding MLSA received through the Midwest Legal Disaster Coordination Project, click here.