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FEMA & Other Disaster Benefits:

FEMA & Other Disaster Benefits Southeast LA Legal Services Corp. www.slls.org October 19, 2015 Rowena Jones & David Williams


This resource is a general outline only, intended for lawyers and other advocates unfamiliar with federal post-disaster benefits for individuals. Legal programs that provide free legal aid are welcome to adapt and expand on this outline for their own internal training use. Intro 2

Trigger for FEMA aid:

3 Trigger for FEMA aid Presidential declaration of “major disaster” Federal assistance supplements resources of state and local governments and voluntary relief organizations. Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act , as amended 42 U.S.C. §5121 et. seq . www.fema.gov/pdf/about/stafford_act.pdf

Stay Up To Date :

www.fema.gov/news-releases Find your relevant state, county and municipality resources , or www.fema.gov/disaster/4241/updates-blog-news 4 Stay Up To Date

FEMA Benefits :

42 U.S.C. § 5174 (The Stafford Act) 44 C.F.R. Part 206 – (Federal Disaster Assistance) www.fema.gov (agency website) www.disasterassistance.gov (apply, monitor app., etc.) Or via FEMA Helpline: 1-800-621-3362 5 FEMA Benefits

Documents and Items You Need To Apply:

Social Security number Current and pre-disaster address A telephone number where you can be contacted Insurance information Total household annual income A routing and account number from your bank (only necessary if you want to have disaster assistance funds transferred directly into your bank account). A description of your losses that were caused by the disaster Documents and Items You Need To Apply 6

Individuals & Households Program (IHP):

Housing assistance. Other needs assistance (“ONA”). Total monetary limit per household changes yearly (annual CPI adjustment). Monetary limit through mid-October 2015 – a bit under $33,000. Unpaid FEMA debts should not be offset against amounts to which an applicant is entitled. FEMA considers applicant’s financial situation except with rental assistance requests by homeowners. 7 Individuals & Households Program (IHP)

Limits of IHP:

IHP is NOT designed to make people whole after a disaster. IHP is NOT designed to replace a home or even cover all disaster-related expenses. Applicants are expected to utilize other available sources of assistance, e.g., Red Cross & private disaster groups and private insurance, and IHP does not duplicate that assistance. FEMA does not supplement inadequate insurance. Applicant only eligible for FEMA assistance if insurance does not cover a category that FEMA does (e.g., no contents insurance – may be eligible for FEMA ‘personal property’ assistance). 8 Limits of IHP

Housing Assistance under the IHP:

Basic requirement: Primary residence. destroyed, inaccessible, or uninhabitable. This means that those homeless at the time of the disaster are ineligible. 9 Housing Assistance under the IHP

Housing Assistance:

Assistance may include: Rental Assistance , renewable for up to 18 months, available for both displaced homeowners and former renters who cannot find affordable rentals; FEMA much stricter on renewal applications of former renters; renewal applicants must have receipts to show use of prior aid. Temporary shelter in hotels, mobile homes (trailers), boats, or housing on military bases. Money to repair damaged homes/hazard mitigation. Money toward replacing destroyed housing, but subject to the cap on assistance. 10 Housing Assistance

Other Needs Assistance (ONA) :

FEMA may cover disaster-related : Medical and dental costs Replacement or repair of necessary medical items Disaster-related funeral and burial costs Clothing, furnishings, appliances, tools for jobs, educational materials Cleaning and sanitization of property Vehicles damaged by the disaster Moving and storage costs 11 Other Needs Assistance (ONA)

IHP Assistance & SBA Loans:

Completed SBA loan application may be required by FEMA for ONA but not for housing programs assistance Summary denials (e.g., very low income/resources) may be done by FEMA and SBA SBA loan decisions can be appealed 12 IHP Assistance & SBA Loans

SBA Loans:

SBA Disaster Loans 15 U.S.C. § 636 (b), (c) Regulations 13 C.F.R. § 123 et seq. Agency website www.sba.gov SBA Loans 13

SBA Loans, cont’d:

Personal/Real Property Replacement Homeowners and renters Repair or replace disaster damages to primary residence (up to $200,000) or personal property (up to $40,000) Physical Disaster Business Loans Economic Injury Disaster Loans SBA Loans, cont’d 14

Applying for FEMA Benefits:

Online: www.disasterassistance.gov Phone: (800) 621-FEMA (3362) Smart Phone: fema.gov 15 Applying for FEMA Benefits

Contact with FEMA :

Applicants should: Keep copies of all submissions to FEMA. Never rely on verbal communication from FEMA representatives (second call may result in statements different from the first). Smart Phone: fema.gov 16 Contact with FEMA

FEMA Inspection:

FEMA tries to inspect the damaged property ASAP Applicant should try to be present Can ask for repeat inspection if needed 17 FEMA Inspection

FEMA decision:

FEMA decision arrives by mail; applicants can also register to get online access to claim decisions: Appeal if disagree. time limit to appeal on FEMA notice Include supporting documentation with appeal Amend application if circumstances change. 18 FEMA decision

Benefits Approved:

Advise recipients to use FEMA benefits only for the approved purposes & to document its use. FEMA can recoup even years later. Keep receipts and bills and copies of FEMA correspondence. FEMA benefits are tax free and exempt from garnishment; they are not countable as resources or income by other federal needs-based assistance programs (e.g., TANF, SNAP/food stamps, Medicaid, SSI). 19 Benefits Approved

“Split Household” Issue:

Only one set of FEMA assistance is meant to be given to a single household at the damaged address. “Household” is those who lived together in the pre-disaster residence at the time of the disaster and those who intended to return. Advise applicants about potential FEMA recoupment or referral for fraud if FEMA decides that duplicate applications were intentional. 20 “Split Household” Issue

Flood Bar Issue:

FEMA will deny some assistance to applicants who: Lived in a flood zone. Own a residence that got FEMA help in an earlier disaster (or rented there and got FEMA help for themselves), and prior aid recipient was told to buy flood insurance. Did not carry flood insurance at the time of new disaster for at least the amount of prior assistance. 21 Flood Bar Issue

Lack of Contact with FEMA:

Every page of written submissions to FEMA should have applicant’s FEMA ID# on it. Notify FEMA promptly of address or phone number changes. FEMA can consider applications withdrawn if unable to contact. 22 Lack of Contact with FEMA

Renter Access Issues :

Landlord lack of cooperation may prevent inspection Landlord may have disposed of applicant’s property Advise applicants of ways to document loss (photos, statements or affidavits) and get FEMA to take alternative action (neighbor or external inspections, e.g.). 23 Renter Access Issues

Appealing FEMA Decisions:

It is often best to try calling & recalling FEMA, and supplementing written record, before appealing, because appeals are unlikely to succeed or have the record complete. Written appeal; include all possible supporting documents! Supplement if necessary. Appeals should have court quality evidence: sworn affidavits, etc. Every page includes DR number and applicant’s FEMA registration number. Postmarked or faxed within 60 days of decision mailing date. Signed by applicant or Authorized Representative (rep. must include signed FEMA release form). 24 Appealing FEMA Decisions

Civil Rights Violations:

FEMA can’t discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, nationality, sex, disability, age, or economic status ( www.fema.gov/civil-rights-program ). To try informal resolution call FEMA Equal Rights Office (202) 646-3535 or 1-(800) 621-3362. File formal written complaint within 180 days of the discrimination. 25 Civil Rights Violations

Disaster Unemployment Assistance (“DUA”):

Application Deadlines will be announced by state agency that administers unemployment insurance program . See www.sces.org . App Deadlines may differ by county. 26 Disaster Unemployment Assistance (“DUA”)

DUA - Eligibility:

Unemployed workers/ self-employed who: Became unemployed as a direct result of the disaster Are not eligible to receive regular unemployment insurance Or those who: Become breadwinner after head of HH dies in disaster Become unemployed due to disaster-sustained injury Can’t reach their job due to disaster Were scheduled to start a job but can’t due to disaster 27 DUA - Eligibility

DUA/UI decisions:

Decisions arrive by mail generally (check your state). Keep address current and monitor mail. Denials can be appealed but act quickly; usually there’s a short appeal period (check your state law) DUA overpayments are not waivable as a matter of federal law; check your state law for collection relief rights on regular UI overpayments. DUA/UI decisions 28

Disaster Food Stamps (“D-SNAP”):

SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) = formerly Food Stamps. D-SNAP = Cash assistance for new and ongoing FS recipients Usual SNAP financial eligibility rules relaxed. D-SNAP resources: www.fns.usda.gov/disaster/disaster-assistance 29 Disaster Food Stamps (“D-SNAP”)

D-SNAP/SNAP– Applying:

Check with the agency that administers the food stamp (SNAP) program in your state. Many eligible for regular SNAP benefits have never applied; advise of possible dual eligibility. Assistance denials can be appealed. 30 D-SNAP/SNAP– Applying

Resources :

FEMA's Help after a Disaster www.fema.gov/pdf/assistance/process/help_after_disaster_english.pdf www.disasterlegalaid.org www.probono.net www.lsba.org/dr rjones@slls.org dwilliams@slls.org 31 Resources

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