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Chap.8: Disaster Loans - - Appendix A: Special Problems - - Appendix B: Forms

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Appendix A: Special Problems

Section A.1: Filing a FEMA Appeal - Section A.2: Appealing a Destroyed Ruling
Section A.3: Documenting Ownership - Section A.4: Audits - Section A.5: Homelessness (pre-existing)

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A.1: Filing A FEMA Appeal

Appeals are easy,

  • IF: the inspector missed some obvious covered item of damage or if hidden damage turns up later (like a cracked beam under the house), or if the amount of compensation FEMA offers is woefully inadequate for the covered repair,1

  • IF: you are not already over the maximum amount of financial assistance allowed per claim (see Chapter 1, Section 1.2)

  • IF: you have solid documentation in the form of still visible damage, photos, bona-fide repair receipts from a reasonably priced contractor, and /or other convincing proof,

  • IF: you want to take the time and energy to assemble and copy your documentation, write out a convincing letter of appeal, and maybe go through a much more thorough and time-consuming inspection than you did before.
If you do find that you do wish to pursue an appeal, follow the instructions on your letter of notification,2 make photocopies of all relevant documentation (being sure to put your name and FEMA control number on each), and mail the whole thing off to the address listed on your notification letter. Someone from FEMA will contact you within a few days or more, depending on the urgency of your request and other factors, with a decision or to arrange a reinspection. Good luck.

1 Applicants have the right to appeal denials of assistance, denials of continuation of benefits, denials for late filing, and amount of grant or loan received. . .
2 If you disagree with FEMA's determination of eligibility or form of assistance provided, you have the right to appeal or request a change within 60 days of receiving notification. (As long as the total time frame is within 180 days after the disaster declaration.)

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A.2: Appealing A "Destroyed" Ruling

Assess Your Situation

When you get your FEMA notification immediately sit down and assess your situation: How much will it take to make your home habitable again? Is the FEMA estimate too high? Is the inspector's report accurate? Do you know if you're eligible for any additional assistance from the IFGP? The FEMA program limit is $10,000; IFGP's maximum is currently $13,400 (3/98); together that equals a potential grant award of $23,400, minus the amount of any rental assistance already addressed, or that needs to be addressed, by FEMA or the IFGP. (Where will you live while repairs are being made?) Have you received a Disaster Loan application from the SBA? Have you filled it out and returned it? Have they reached a decision? What are your options?

Reach Out

Call the FEMA Helpline, 800-525-0321, or visit a local Disaster Recovery Center for answers to these program questions: Has the SBA received your loan application? How long until they decide? Will the IFGP help? If you can find a way to get the job done for less, would FEMA reconsider your case? If so, . .

Make a Plan

Can you find a contractor who will do the work for significantly less and preferably in less than 30 days? Can you do the work (safely!) yourself, thereby saving major labor costs? Is there a church group or other charity that could help with labor or other expenses? Do you have friends or family that could help cut your costs? If you can come up with a reasonable plan of action write FEMA and appeal your notification. If you need help with the appeal try the Helpline or call Disaster Legal Services. Good luck and God bless.

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A.3: Documenting Ownership

Ownership Equals Responsibility

Legal ownership, particuarily home ownership, is not always a cut and dried issue. It may come as a shock to some, but not all "homeowners" have perfect legal title to their property. There are probably a hundred-and-three ways to complicate home ownership claims: a deed may be in a deceased spouse's name; or the home could belong to a living relative who has given it to the "owner" to live in; or the property may have been abandoned. Then there are formal and informal land contracts, living wills, trusts, estates in probate, contended properties, squatters' rights, mining camps, swamp dwellings, houseboats, nomadic structures, sprawling family estates, farm worker-maintained homes, communes, incapacitated elders, ministers' cottages, the rights of "significant others," sharecropper issues, and 82 more. In a nutshell: To be eligible for a FEMA home repair grant, an applicant must be able to demonstrate that the home is his/ her primary residence, and that he/ she:
  • is responsible for all maintenance and repairs, AND,
  • EITHER makes all mortgage, property tax, and insurance payments,
    OR has life-long occupancy rights granted by the legal owner.
And it can also be a problem when your papers are missing or damaged or unreachable because of the disaster itself. You know it helps to store important bits of legal flotsam well above the flood line in a shatterproof case, but, sometimes the hand of the Lord will reach down and work its mysterious wonder anyway. Be prepared. If your official record of home "ownership" is spotty or troublesome, for whatever reason, then you will want to discuss this situation with your application taker when you make your initial call to Teleregistration. He or she will evaluate your situation and tell you what you need to prove to FEMA's satisfaction that you are the "owner" of the home. Ownership status is always checked out very thoroughly before any repair moneys are disbursed, so: It is in your own interest to be upfront from the start. Otherwise, you could incur nightmarish delays and a seemingly endless series of calls to the Helpline, daily visits to the neighborhood copy shop, and late-night appeal-writing campaigns.

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A.4: Audits

A what ? . . . An Audit ! - Eeeek !

Well, yes, FEMA's Office of the Inspector General (actually in the Dept of Homeland Security) can ask to audit your disaster grant expenditures at any time for up to three years after your claim is settled. You will definitely want to hang on to your photos, receipts and other documentation for at least that long. As with the IRS, there are targeted audits and random audits. For you, the average disaster victim, a random audit, while certainly no fun, should not be a totally unbearable exercise. We would note here that one of our contacts in the agency commented to the effect that the average disaster victim "doesn't have anything to worry about," that the random audit program is just "a way to trip up those recipients who take their assistance check and go vacationing in Hawaii with the proceeds." Which begs the question - just where do they plan on living when they come back? And just what is the official answer to the frequently asked question, "Do I have to return the money to FEMA if I use the money for something else or don't use the money at all?" One answer verbatum the FEMA-issued inspector "Hello letter" 6/20/96: "The money must only be spent to meet your emergency disaster needs." Our translation (but check with FEMA before acting on this): if you are short in your FEMA award in one area, e.g. drywall repair, you can use excess or unnecessary award amount from say, the foundation repair portion of your grant to make up the difference. Use caution, however, when using an initial FEMA rental assistance check for repairs instead. From the same Hello letter: "You may elect to use the FEMA rental check to make repairs to your home instead of renting alternate housing. If so, you will not be eligible for any additional FEMA housing assistance." A FEMA reviewer could interpret this to mean that you are not eligible for any additional rental assistance, or could interpret this to mean that you are not eligible for any further housing (inc. home repair) assistance period. Call the helpline with this question, or play it safe and just send the rent check back if you don't really require actual live-elsewhere emergency rental assistance. And be sure to get and save your emergency rental receipts.

* * * * * * * *
Copyright ©1998-2009
John Porter aka John Lionheart

Beautiful Books
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A.5: Homelessness, pre-existing

--this notice (A.5) may be freely copied and posted--


If you are homeless and find yourself in the middle of an unusually violent storm or other uprising of nature, make your way to a shelter and stay there. If a federal disaster is declared, an agency called FEMA or the Federal Emergency Management Agency will come along and you will be able to apply for assistance. No one will try to trick you that walks with them. After you apply, stay at the shelter, unless you told the person who took your application that you were going to be somewhere else. If you did, then go there and stay. Stay where you said you were going to be until the FEMA inspector comes to check on your application. Tell him what you lost, where you were when you lost it, and make sure he has your mailing address right on his paperwork before he leaves. You should receive your FEMA notification in just a few days, and /or you may hear from another program, the IFGP, a little while later. Also, it's possible you could receive an SBA application in the mail, too. Don't be daunted, it's manageable. If you are sent an SBA loan application, fill it out as best you can and return it promptly - not only does it keep you in the grant program, but, hey, who knows, you might be the next Slim Pickens, and this is your lucky break!

Good luck and GOD BLESS!!!!

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