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)
Immigrant families and migrant workers
People facing discrimination based on race, disability, criminal history, history of domestic violence, gender identity or sexual orientation
Immigrant & Migrant Rights Project
Formerly known as the Migrant Farmworker Justice Project (MFJP), this project has provided over 20 years of legal assistance to farmworkers and immigrant families working in Florida, including migrant or seasonal farmworkers and temporary agricultural workers under the H-2A visa program. We also provide legal representation to temporary non-agricultural workers under the H-2B visa program and represent 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. We work closely with community services organizations serving the farmworker and immigrant communities 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.
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.
The FEMA application deadline ended on November 25, 2017. Visit the Florida Law Help Website for assistance if you are denied, are appealing, or need legal advice.
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.
The DUA application deadline ended on November 14, 2017. Visit the Florida Law Help Website for assistance if you are denied, are appealing, or need legal advice.
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,
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) & DISASTER SNAP
The Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) runs the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which used to be known as “Food Stamps.” as well as Disaster SNAP (D-SNAP). D-SNAP gives food assistance to low-income households with food loss or damage caused by Irma even if they would not normally qualify for SNAP as well as by replacing and supplementing the SNAP benefits of persons who were receiving benefits when Irma hit.
Hurricane Maria survivors from Puerto Rico can 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.
For most Floridians who were impacted by Irma and who were getting SNAP when Irma hit, DCF should have automatically added supplemental benefits to their EBT card for September and October as well as issued replacement benefits to make up for food they lost when the electricity went out.
For low-income persons in need of food assistance who did not apply for D-SNAP and are not getting SNAP, 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 download a paper form.
As a result of a lawsuit, Miami Workers Center et al. v. Carroll, et al., many Floridians who lost food in Irma were able to receive Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP) through phone interviews conducted on December 2nd and 3rd. Phone interviews were held for persons who have disabilities or are elderly and who pre-registered for D-SNAP but were unable to go in person or stand in line to be interviewed. For more information, see DCF's press release, USDA To Administer Telephone Interviews For Special Needs Applicants Unable To Previously Interview For DSNAP, at http://www.myflfamilies.com/newsroom/press-releases.
FLS wants to hear from or about persons who were unable to pre-register for D-SNAP because of their disabilities or problems with DCF’s web site by calling 1-305-284-3951 and/or through a survey at http://communityjusticeproject.com/dsnap/.
Denied SNAP or D-SNAP?
Applicants who have been denied SNAP or D-SNAP or disagree with the amount of benefits they received have the right to request a fair hearing from DCF to contest the decision. To request a hearing, follow the instructions and timelines in the written eligibility notice provided by DCF. If you did not get a written notice, follow the directions on DCF’s web site at http://www.dcf.state.fl.us/admin/ig/fair-hearing-request-form.shtml. Free legal help from local legal aid programs may be available. To find your local program, go to www.floridalawhelp.org.
TRANSITIONAL SHELTERING ASSISTANCE (TSA)
FEMA extended TSA to January 6 for Florida.
On Friday, December 1, FEMA issued a news release stating that Hurricane Irma survivors in Florida receiving Transitional Sheltering Assistance (TSA) may get an extension to stay temporarily in hotels while they look for an alternative place to live. Eligibility is extended from December 3 to January 6, with hotel checkout on January 7. Participants in the program will receive a phone call regarding their eligibility for the extension. Hurricane Irma survivors who may be eligible but are not currently in the program are notified automatically.
U.S. DEPT OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT (HUD) VOUCHERS
HUD will target $15 million to help public housing agencies (PHAs) in disaster areas that have experienced significant increases in Housing Choice Voucher portability costs. Portability is the term that refers to a household with a voucher moving from (“porting”) the area of a PHA that provided the voucher (the “initial PHA,” such as Puerto Rico) to use their voucher in another area where the voucher program is operated by a different PHA (the “receiving PHA,” such as Orlando, Florida). This targeting policy was announced in Notice PIH 2017-26 on December 5.
The source of this money is a $75 million set-aside in the FY17 Appropriations Act. Initially, HUD limited access to the set-aside for PHAs anticipated to have insufficient voucher funding to renew existing vouchers (a “shortfall”), which would have resulted in the termination of households’ voucher assistance. HUD indicates that it has provided all of the shortfall funding thought needed. Hence, the remaining $15 million set-aside is being targeted to “initial PHAs” in disaster areas to cover their increased portability costs.
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
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 Fact Sheets