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Puerto Rico attorneys navigating land records for FEMA benefits

FILE - In this Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017, file photo, people sit on both sides of a destroyed bridge that crossed over the San Lorenzo de Morovis River, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, in Morovis, Puerto Rico. Maria has thrown Puerto Rico’s already messy economic recovery plans into disarray. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

FILE – In this Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017, file photo, people sit on both sides of a destroyed bridge that crossed over the San Lorenzo de Morovis River, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, in Morovis, Puerto Rico. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

As Puerto Rico tries to recover from the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, attorneys are busy helping people get access to FEMA benefits, according to José M. Vázquez Balasquide of Pro Bono Inc., a legal services organization based in Puerto Rico.

Traditionally, Puerto Ricans live on properties passed on from parents or grandparents without legal title, a document that is required to get FEMA benefits, Balasquide said Tuesday from Washington, where he was attending a legal services conference. Attorneys have been going to devastated areas to help identify owners and occupants of different properties to help them qualify for that federal assistance, he added.

With about half of Puerto Rico still without power, attorneys have had to do things “the old school way,” Balasquide said, doing work with pen and paper.

While in Washington, Balasquide had plans to tour Maryland Legal Aid’s Rockville office and learn about the legal service organization’s pro bono program, case management system and its volunteer attorneys program.

Pro Bono, Inc. has six offices in Puerto Rico. The bulk of its services involves providing legal advice on specific issues. About 25 percent of its work involves extended services including going to court and arguing cases.

Between 900 and 1,000 volunteer attorneys handle cases per year for the organization, Balasquide said.

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