We continue our break from matters of family law to address Harvey-related issues that may affect your family or business. Many Southeast Texas homeowners and businesses may qualify for FEMA disaster assistance. This is special federal government assistance meant to help folks whose property was damaged or destroyed and whose losses are not covered by insurance. Here’s what you need to know about FEMA disaster assistance.
- File all insurance claims first. Before filing for FEMA disaster assistance, you must file claims under all of your existing insurance policies. There are no exceptions. You must exhaust all other forms of assistance before receiving FEMA disaster aid. FEMA disaster assistance is not intended to restore your damaged property to its condition before the disaster; it is only meant to help people with critical expenses not covered by existing insurance policies.
- FEMA provides housing disaster assistance. FEMA provides housing assistance in the form of (1) temporary housing (a place to live for a limited period of time, including hotels, government housing, or a rental unit), (2) repairs to your home not covered by insurance, (3) replacement of a destroyed home not covered by insurance, and (4) money to construct a home in certain situations where no other type of housing assistance is possible.
- FEMA also provides non-housing disaster assistance. FEMA also provides non-housing disaster assistance, including money for food, water, power, medical and dental expenses, funeral and burial costs, clothing, fuel, cleanup items, transportation, moving and storage costs, and generators.
- Apply for FEMA disaster assistance as soon as possible. Here’s what you need in-hand to make the process go as smoothly as possible: (1) evidence that your claim was denied by your insurance company, (2) Social Security number, (3) current and pre-disaster address, (4) telephone number where you can be contacted, (5) evidence of your total annual household income, and (6) your bank account routing and account numbers (if you want the funds deposited directly into your bank account). Business owners also may be eligible for aid from the Small Business Administration.
- After applying for FEMA disaster assistance, hang in there. After submitting your application, wait 24 hours to check the FEMA system for your claim status. This can be a long time to wait if you are in an emergency situation, so take care of yourself and your family during this time. Get the help you need and worry about the aid later. FEMA will send an inspector to your residence to assess your damage and your needs. Have as much of the above-listed information as possible to support your claim.
- Important stuff to know about FEMA home inspections. FEMA inspections are performed by contracted inspectors, not FEMA employees. They merely report facts; they do not determine the amount of your aid. FEMA inspections are free—so do not ever pay for a FEMA inspection. You must be able to show proof of ownership or occupancy (deed, tax forms, mortgage paperwork, driver’s license, utility bill, etc.). It can take up to ten days after your inspection before you claim is approved or denied. Keep in mind that the entire FEMA claims process can take several weeks since you must first file an insurance claim, have it denied, apply for disaster insurance, wait for an inspection, and then wait an additional ten days for the decision.
- Important stuff to know once you qualify for FEMA disaster assistance. Your aid will be in the form of a check or direct deposit. You may spend the money only on eligible expenses identified in your decision letter. If you use the money to pay other expenses, you may be required to refund the money. Keep your receipts for three years in case FEMA audits you. FEMA disaster aid is tax free, does not have to be repaid (if spent on proper expenses), does not count as income for social security or other aid, and is exempt from garnishment or seizure. Your aid may not be transferred to another person. If, on the other hand, you didn’t qualify for FEMA disaster aid, you may appeal.
Sonya B. Coffman is a Board Certified family lawyer in Beaumont, Texas. She also is a C.P.A. The Coffman Law Firm deals with insurance and property matters—all day, every day.