How to Get Help When You Don’t Qualify for FEMA

Residents all along the Gulf Coast are shuffling around the state after Hurricane Harvey tore through the community and displaced hundreds of thousands. Homes trapped in the disaster area suffered massive flooding and ousted families until repairs can be completed. With no other options, families are staying in hotels after receiving temporary accommodations through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Not every family was so lucky. Some are still waiting for their FEMA applications to be processed, and others have to look elsewhere after their request for assistance was denied.

Texas Monthly reports official numbers from FEMA indicate 852,744 families have filed applications for federal assistance, as of October 6. Of those, only 308,862 have been approved, and the agency will not discuss how many applications are still under review or even how many have been rejected.

FEMA may initially reject applications based on the following:

  • An insurance claim through the National Flood Insurance Program is still under review
  • There is missing information on the application that was submitted
  • Ownership or residence has not been established based on qualifying evidence
  • The U.S. Small Business Administration disaster loan application was not submitted
  • Evidence was not submitted to confirm that the damaged property was a primary residence at the time of hurricane
  • Missing signatures

Other complications sometimes arise during the application process. Aid is only given to people who are able to prove their U.S. citizenship, and they must prove that their home has been damaged to such an extent that it is now uninhabitable. If you were not specifically on a lease and living with family or friends, it could be challenging to establish your eligibility. Other people living in houses owned by exes or if the homeowner is abroad will struggle to prove ownership. Foreigners, exchange students, or someone who has lost their documentation in the storm are also faced with denial and further scrutiny through the FEMA process.

FEMA officials must visually inspect the property before the application is approved. Homes that are inaccessible because they are still flooded, covered in debris, or unreachable by car will initially be denied. Homeowners that were denied for this reason are expected to file an appeal with the agency, but that process can take up to 90 days to be reviewed. Another obstacle is maintaining a current, alternative address for FEMA to reach the applicant. As families relocate from shelters to other temporary housing options, they will need to keep their address current during the application process. If a representative shows up to “check up” on the family and they aren’t there, it will automatically trigger a denial. Paper letters are the only method FEMA uses to communicate denials to the applicants.

Applicants can be denied for several reasons, but if FEMA initially determines that a family is ineligible, survivors have 60 days from the date on their determination letter to file an appeal. According to the FEMA website, “Your appeal should include new or missing information, documents, and damage repair estimates that support the appeal request.” Sometimes the letter of denial is simply asking for more information before aid is approved.

Recipients of FEMA aid only have temporary relief. The original hotel vouchers distributed by FEMA expired on Tuesday, September 26, and ten thousand people were not approved for extended stays. Charitable donations are still available, and victims will need to turn to private alternatives once FEMA resources dry up.

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