By: Philip Hackney
I live in Baton Rouge, LA where I teach at LSU Law Center. Baton Rouge and surrounding communities are currently experiencing unprecedented flooding. The devastation stretches from around the Louisiana-Mississippi border all the way over to Lafayette -maybe 100 miles across. This story does a nice job explaining the weather phenomenon that caused this massive flood event. Neighborhoods that have never flooded before in our recorded history are under 4 -6 ft. of water, and some higher than that. Almost the entirety of certain cities are submerged. The last data I had for my area is that 20,000 were displaced and 10,000 in shelters. I expect that number to go up over the week. Even though it has stopped raining, the flood waters cannot drain because the rivers are too high and cannot take runnoff from tributaries. I am fortunate to live in a house that has been spared from this devastating water. The picture on the left is of Gonzales City Hall underwater.
This is just a quick post on some resources for navigating the legal benefits of a disaster. I highly recommend the tremendous article by my fellow blogger Francine Lipman entitled Anatomy of a Disaster Under the Internal Revenue Code. It discusses all of the income tax impacts of various benefits that you might apply for and receive. In many cases the Code excludes amounts you receive in disasters. The two most significant probably are gifts you might receive from family and friends. Those are excludable under 102 of the Code. More significantly, benefits from the government will often be excluded as qualified disaster relief payments under section 139 of the Code. The fact that President Obama declared this a disaster allows this provision to kick in for the affected areas.
IRS: The IRS provides a lot of useful information regarding disasters here. It has already announced tax relief information regarding the flooding in Louisiana. Four parishes have been declared a national disaster and thus qualify for certain tax relief. UPDATE: A total of twenty parishes across Louisiana are now declared federal disasters.
Advice on Operating a Charity: If you are looking to involve a charity in disaster relief, the IRS provides a useful publication here. It includes advice on how to properly set up an Employee Assistance Fund. My advice on those is to work with a community foundation that already operates these types of funds in order to simplify your compliance. Louisiana Association of Nonprofit Organizations (LANO) has set up a forum here for nonprofits to coordinate with each other in terms of resources they need.
Typically, in a disaster it is best to not set up a new organization, but to instead use the charitable network already in place. They can make the most efficient use of your money and time. Giving to a legitimate charity though is important. Don’t just give to some individual who is asking. Plenty of scams are set up at this time. Please watch out and look for reputable places to donate. Should you notice any price gouging or scams, please contact the Office of the Louisiana Attorney General‘s Consumer Protection Hotline at (800) 351-4889.
If a for profit business wants to set up a means of collecting for a charity, it must follow certain rules administered by the LA Attorney General’s office. Information on how to set that up legally is here. Main idea: pick a charity, get its written consent, provide an accounting to charity.
Where to Donate: Because I live here, and work around the charitable world I note there are a few good local organizations to donate to if you are so inclined. There is the Baton Rouge Foodbank that took on 4 feet of water and was already having trouble keeping up with the food demand in our community. They do great work. There is St. Vincent DePaul that has a pharmacy, does legal work and generally helps the homeless. Finally, there is the Baton Rouge Area Foundation that has set up the Louisiana Flood Relief Fund. They do a great job assessing local need and distributing funds to nonprofits accordingly. They also have deep experience with disaster relief, particularly through Hurricane Katrina. There are many other good choices, but these are some I personally like from a local perspective. If you want a charity that helps out pets, there is the Louisiana State Animal Response Team.
FEMA, IHP, SBA benefits links: FEMA provides resources here and a recent fact sheet here on how to get help on rental payments and unemployment benefits if you have been displaced from home and job. One of the programs it discusses is the Individuals and Household Program for individuals who do not have insurance and need medical, housing, transportation and other types of personal needs due to disaster. Here is a link for Disaster Unemployment Assistance that the FEMA link discusses. Here is a link for the Small Business Administration Disaster Loans program for businesses in the affected area.
The State of Louisiana Governors office also provides some great information here on registering your damage. I understand Per FEMA, take pictures and proceed with your cleaning out of flooded houses. Remember to take a picture of APPLIANCE MODEL NUMBERS if you can and KEEP A SAMPLE OF CARPET YOU TEAR OUT if you can.
There are many other programs around. If anyone has other thoughts for important resources or comments on what I provide here please comment below with your suggestions. Louisiana can use your help right now.
UPDATE: US Senator Contact Info: I understand that our LA US Senators can help with the FEMA process:
Senators David Vitter and Bill Cassidy can help with FEMA and any other federal assistance. Senator David Vitter’s entire office stands ready to help people with FEMA or other assistance. The office number for Senator Vitter’s Baton Rouge office is 225-383-0331, his New Orleans office is 504-589-2753, and the Lafayette office is 337-993-9502. The main point of contact is David Stokes but any staff member of his office can begin the process for assistance.
Senator Bill Cassidy’s office number is 225-929-7711 and point of contact is Michael Eby. His office, too, is ready to help anyone affected by the floods.
Lousisiana Legal Services for help: The Louisiana Civil Justice Center has activated its Disaster Legal Hotline. The Hotline will provide legal advice and services for individuals who reside in parishes affected by the disaster. Callers can receive answers to legal questions about how to get help and also receive referrals to attorneys. Please call 504-355-0970 or 1-800-310-7029. Another great legal service in Louisiana is the Advocacy Center of Louisiana. Click on it to find a lot of great resources too. The Louisiana State Bar Association, the Louisiana Civil Justice Center and the American Bar Association’s Young Lawyers are teaming up to help those in need. They put out a sheet with a lot of good resources. See also the Louisiana Law Blog operated by Kean Miller law firm that is providing some good information on legal rights associated with the storm, and also this PropertyProf blog post on dealing with mortgage lenders and insurance associated with a house.
UPDATE: Information related to the FEMA Claim form for residents WITH flood insurance.
When residents with flood insurance get back into their homes, they will need to fill out this form and send it to the below address if their policy was issued by FEMA:
NFIP Direct Servicing Agent
P.O. Box 2966
Shawnee Mission, KS 66201-1366
If the policy was issued by a write-your-own insurance company, the homeowner will have to send the proof of loss to their insurance company.
The deadline for this form may be as short as 60 days after the loss, unless FEMA extends the deadline. The failure to timely submit this form can be fatal to a flood insurance claim.