1. FEMA appeals clarify misinformation on the original application, provide new information which would qualify the client for benefits, or prove the client’s basic needs are not being met by insurance, SBA loans, or current FEMA benefits.
2. Appeals must be sent within 60 days of the decision letter, but FEMA usually gives extensions if there is good cause for missing the deadline. If you can submit a portion of the appeal on time, ask for an extension to submit additional information.
3. Only one adult or child of a household must be qualified (a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national, or “Qualified Alien”) for FEMA benefits to apply.
4. FEMA benefits only cover essentials and are not available to return property to its pre-disaster state.
5. Make sure to appeal each part of the original decision that was incorrect (i.e. temporary housing and repairs).
6. Communication is more difficult due to a disaster, especially for people who are displaced. Get as much contact information as possible from a client and stress the importance of continued contact. Empathize with clients and remember that many are displaced and struggling to meet their basic needs.
7. In order to communicate with FEMA on a client’s behalf, the client must sign a form under penalty of perjury and send a copy of a photo ID. While the form is processed, the client must be present in person or by phone for any communication with FEMA. Even after the form is processed, FEMA documents are only sent to the client, so follow up periodically to make sure they receive a decision letter. Ask for their FEMA file immediately.
8. The final appeal should include:
• A cover letter
• Supporting documents
• The client’s signature (notarized or signed under penalty of perjury)
• The client’s updated personal information
• The FEMA authorization form
• A copy of the client’s photo ID
9. Continue to challenge appeal decisions if there is new information.
Common Reasoning for Assistance Denial
• There is an error in the client’s contact information which has impeded communication with FEMA, especially relating to scheduling an inspection.
• The client needs to apply for a SBA Loan before they are considered for FEMA assistance.
• There was a misunderstanding between FEMA and the client (FEMA uses confusing wording in some of their questions), for example:
– The client indicated they have home insurance when they only have car insurance
– FEMA asks if the applicant is willing to relocate during their inspection and does not specify the relocation is temporary. Many clients say no because of the wording and are automatically denied services.
• FEMA needs more proof the client owns their home (or is a life tenant/rent-free resident who covers property tax and major repairs), or proof that the client had a legal title without documentation if they can prove they had it before the disaster
• The FEMA inspector made an error assessing the safety/extent of damage of the property.
– Itemized, verifiable estimates from contractors can help dispute this.
– Make note of any changes the client made after an inspection.
• More than one person applied for assistance in a household. If multiple independent individuals/families live on one property, they usually need to find a way to divide the assistance.
• The property must be located within the declared disaster zone.
• If any past or current owner has accepted FEMA benefits on a property with the condition of getting flood insurance, the property must have flood insurance to receive flood-related assistance.
Other Tips for Working with FEMA:
• Call FEMA (and ask for tier 2 caseworkers) about your appeal to further advocate for your client and clarify any misunderstandings about the original decision.
• Tell clients to elaborate on questions from FEMA and give thorough responses.
• Because many FEMA inspectors have very little training and limited time to perform an inspection, do not hesitate to question their findings.
• Qualification for FEMA benefits may allow the client to get assistance from other organizations such as grants for repairs because the other organizations don’t have access to inspectors.
• Faxing FEMA appeals may be the best option because it gives a time stamped receipt with the number of pages sent. Sometimes FEMA loses parts of appeals and claims they were not sent and the electronic version has errors.
• Tell clients to prepare for their home inspection by planning what to show the inspector and having proof of ownership/title on hand.
• Do not leave anything blank on the application; always make an estimate for damages even if you don’t know exactly.
• Appeal each different which was wrongfully denied or insufficient, i.e temporary housing, repairs, rental.
IHP: Individuals and Households Program -monetary housing assistance needs for renters and homeowners. Assistance is given for serious needs following a disaster.
ONA: Other Needs Assistance is a state/tribe based part of IHP for essentials items/services and critical needs (CNA).
IHPUG: Individuals and Households Program Unified Guidance – document containing policies and criteria for IHP assistance.
SBA Loans: The Small Business Association provides loans to individuals after a disaster. To receive FEMA benefits, clients must first apply for an SBA Loan. If the applicant qualifies for a loan, they do not need to accept it, but FEMA will not duplicate other potential sources of assistance.
(Includes a list of documents to use for an appeal by denial reasoning)
(Short video on FEMA appeals)
• IHP Factsheet: https://www.fema.gov/assistance/individual/housing
• FEMA number: (800) 621-3362