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FEMA Basics and Appeals

Legal Aid clients rarely have insurance that can cover the cost of rebuilding their homes and replacing belongings. FEMA's Individual Assistance Program provides financial assistance and direct services to eligible uninsured or underinsured households for necessary expenses and pressing needs.

Who should apply to FEMA? 

Everyone affected by the disaster should apply to FEMA. EVERYONE! Even if they have insurance. 

How does a person apply for FEMA? 

By phone: 1-800-621-FEMA (1-800-621-3362) 

Online: http://www.disasterassistance.gov

In-person: Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) Link to search by address: 

https://egateway.fema.gov/ESF6/DRCLocator


What is the deadline for the initial application? 

The deadline to apply is 60 days from the date of the federal declaration. FEMA sometimes extends the deadline if the disaster is severe, but don't rely on this. Apply quickly. 

Your client may apply late only by showing GOOD CAUSE.

Respond to FEMA within 10 days if the agency requests additional documents or evidence.  Additionally, your client must appeal any FEMA denial or other adverse decision within 60 days of the date of the denial or adverse decision.

What does FEMA cover? 

FEMA covers temporary housing, rental assistance, and repairs to damaged homes up to approximately $30,000. Be sure your client understands that FEMA will not cover damage to garages or other outdoor structures.  Sometimes FEMA offers a buyout program for severely damaged homes in the flood area. FEMA also provides Other Needs Assistance (ONA), which covers expenses such as: 

  • medical and dental expenses,
  • funeral and burial costs, 
  • personal property, 
  • cleaning your residence, 
  • transportation (Most often vehicle replacement) 
  • moving and storage costs related to the disaster (storage or the return of property to the pre-disaster home) 
  • flood insurance policy for the home 


How does my client avoid misuse of funds? 

Be sure they use assistance money for the intended purpose. FEMA funds must go to repairs for the home and replace personal property unless earmarked for other use such as rental assistance or vehicle replacement. 

FEMA routinely conducts audits to ensure that individuals who have received funds have used the money appropriately.  Clients should retain receipts for any purchases made with FEMA funds for seven years.  FEMA can ask for recoupment of funds if money misspent.

TIP: Scan or take pictures of receipts. PAPER RECEIPTS FADE!


Sometimes disaster survivors are told that they are not eligible for FEMA assistance. For those who disagree with the finding, there is a way to have FEMA revisit the case. The applicant should read the determination letter carefully. Many times FEMA needed additional documentation, such as proof of ownership.

If that does not resolve the problem, everyone has a right to appeal.


What is the proper format for an appeal, is there a form?

FEMA does not have an official form. To appeal, send a letter to FEMA asking for reconsideration and explaining why the applicant filed the appeal with any supporting documents.

If an applicant appeals, they MUST include and sign the statement "I declare under penalty of perjury that the information provided is true" If you appeal on the applicant's behalf, you can include the statement in the Authorization for Release of Information that you provide to FEMA with the appeal. 


Why would a person be denied? 

Look to the client's denial letter for specific reasons. 

The most common denial reasons are: 

  • you have insurance to cover the losses,
  • the disaster did not cause the damages to your home, 
  • your home did not sustain sufficient damages to essential living areas or personal property to qualify for disaster assistance,
  • property is a secondary or vacation home. 

Other common reasons are: 

  • Homeownership cannot be verified, 
  • Home occupancy cannot be verified 

Denial for Transportation is usually for: 

  • the vehicle not being insured with at least liability insurance
  • The car is not registered with the state. 
  • It’s the family's second car.

Denial for Rental Assistance is generally due to: 

  • the home being livable or habitable or 
  • the client has a place to stay permanently without causing hardship. 


Can we appeal again for additional money? 

Yes. If your home's damage exceeds insurance coverage or you disagree with the FEMA inspectors estimate, you should file an appeal letter. FEMA’s disaster assistance provides resources or monetary compensation for losses not covered by insurance and other critical expenses. FEMA’s goal is to make the home habitable, not restore the property to its pre-disaster condition. If your client is living in the home safely, FEMA is unlikely to give them additional funds. 


How many times can we appeal? 

There is no right of further appeal, but if the client’s circumstances change after your appeal (for example, if the homeowner's insurance denies the claim), contact FEMA at 1-800-621-3362 to see if they have become eligible for assistance.


What is the deadline to appeal? 


The deadline for the first appeal is 60 days from the date of the decision letter. Late appeals are accepted ONLY if the applicant can demonstrate good cause. FEMA has 90 days to render a determination, and it is considered denied as a matter of law if FEMA issues no response during the 90 day period. 


The client filed a Pro Se appeal, and now the appeal deadline has passed. What should I do? 


FEMA has up to 90 days to evaluate each application and make a determination. Supplementing the client's pro se appeal with a more precise version with additional supporting documents ensures the clients get a fair review. The more information FEMA has to consider, the better.  


How long do I have to file the supplement? 


Your client can supplement up until FEMA makes a new ruling. According to the regulations, If FEMA does not decide within 90 days of the application or appeal, then that is a constructive denial. So, 90 days from the appeal is the furthest deadline, barring FEMA deciding before that date. The rule of thumb is to get the supplement filed as soon as possible.


Belinda J. Martinez/Staff Attorney Lone Star Legal Aid