TRLA Attorneys Receive Top state Bar Awards
During Texas' annual Poverty Law Conference, TRLA attorneys Jerome Wesevich and Tracy Figueroa received 2017 "Impact Awards" from the State Bar's Poverty Law Section for their extraordinary contribution to defense of the rights of low-income Texans. Figueroa earned the award for her "tireless work coordinating the entire TRLA Hurricane Harvey legal assistance effort" for survivors along the Texas Gulf Coast, according to the State Bar's statement. Wesevich received the award for his "great effort to hold the government accountable" in his successful suit on behalf of more than 20,000 Rio Grande Valley residents who were denied aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency even though their homes were severely damaged in the 2008 Hurricane Dolly.
The awards were presented during the September Poverty Law Conference in Austin.
After Harvey struck in August 2017, Figueroa organized a broad, multifaceted disaster legal aid response. Disaster aid attorneys helped survivors at evacuation centers, and a Harvey Legal Aid hotline took calls seven days a week. Figueroa's team staffed all of FEMA Disaster Resource Centers (DRCs), helping survivors primarily with filing appeals after they had been denied assistance from FEMA. By the summer of 2018, the team had managed to get more than $400,000 in FEMA aid for people who were initially turned down.
Wesevich also received the award for defending the rights of disaster survivors. Wesevich was lead counsel for TRLA's suit on behalf of Hurricane Dolly survivors who were denied FEMA aid. Figueroa was co-counsel on the suit. In February 2017, the U.S. District Court in Brownsville issued its final judgement, ruling with TRLA that FEMA had violated federal law by using a secret rule to deny home-repair assistance to 24,027 families after the storm struck the Texas Gulf Coast in 2008. The court ordered FEMA to reconsider all of the disaster assistance applications filed by the 26 named plaintiffs and by any of 7,000 members of the community group, La Union del Pueblo (LUPE), also a plaintiff. Earlier this year, FEMA finally delivered financial assistance to many of those people.