[Update: FEMA Federal Disaster Assistance is now available for survivors of the recent severe Texas winter storm. FEMA’s press release contains information about what to do before applying for assistance, the counties that qualify, and disaster assistance contact information.]
In the aftermath of disaster, it can be hard to know where to turn for help. Homeowners whose properties are damaged during a hurricane, tornado, wildfire, severe winter storm, or other natural disaster may have insurance that will cover their expenses. Others may not be so lucky. For homeowners and renters in need of financial assistance that is not covered by insurance, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, is the agency to turn to for essential government aid.
For some, the process of making a FEMA claim can be overwhelming or tedious, but it pays to stick with it. We have compiled the following tips to help you make a FEMA claim and get the disaster relief that you need.
Concerned about storm or wildfire damage?
Use RocketEvidence to capture video before and after the fire or storm,
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Tip #1 – Document the Damage
When the storm passes, your first instinct may be to start cleaning up the debris from your yard and attempt to undo the damage that has been done. However, it’s incredibly important that you take time to document the damage before you start the process of cleaning, fixing and getting back to normal. One of the first things that you should do is take photographs of the property. Don’t forget the detail shots that may better show the extent of the damage. It’s also a good idea to shoot video of your property in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, as this can show a different perspective. Finally, before you begin cleaning, take detailed notes about the damage that you find. No damage is too small to document, so try to be thorough.
Tip #2 – Keep All of Your Receipts
The expenses related to the disaster will quickly start to climb, and you will need to document every expense that you incur as a result. These receipts will play an integral role in your FEMA application, so be sure to save each and every one. Some receipts that you will want to save include receipts for:
- Hotel stays or apartment rentals.
- Equipment rentals.
- Stores where supplies were purchased.
If you are not provided with a receipt, don’t be shy. Ask for one. It’s very important to have documentation of your expenses in order to get the assistance that you need.
Tip #3 – Don’t Avoid the FEMA Inspector
The FEMA inspector is going to arrive at your house in order to assess the damage and compare it to what has been described in the claim. Rather than avoiding this professional, you should welcome them to your home. You will be responsible for showing the FEMA inspector the different areas of your home and property that have been damaged by the natural disaster. You should highlight the damage to your home, other parts of your property, your car, and any other personal property, such as furniture, clothes, linens, kitchenware, appliances, electronics, etc. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and be sure to take copious notes during the inspector’s visit.
Tip #4 – Be Mindful of Deadlines
There are various deadlines that you will have to meet throughout the FEMA claim application process. It can be difficult to keep track of these deadlines when you have so many other things on your plate. However, it’s important that you meet all of them, as this will keep you on track and ensure that you get the assistance that you need as soon as possible. If you are unclear about the steps you should be taking and when the deadlines are, you can call FEMA and ask.
Tip #5 – Stay Organized When Completing the Application
Your application will require you to piece together what happened during the natural disaster and the impact that it had on your home, your property and your livelihood. When you sit down to fill out the application, make sure that you are organized and ready to complete all of the sections. You should choose a quiet time when you can focus completely on your application without being distracted. It’s a good idea to write a letter to attach to your application that explains what each receipt was for, as this will provide the agency with clarity as they process your claim.
Tip #6 – Keep Copies of the Application and Supporting Documents
Before you submit your claim to FEMA, make copies of the completed application and all supporting documents that you are submitting. This will protect you in the event that FEMA does not receive all or part of your application. It also can benefit you in the event that your initial claim is denied. If your claim is denied, you have a right to appeal, so do not throw away the denial of claim letter from FEMA. In order to appeal as quickly as possible, you will want to have a copy of the original application and all supporting documents on hand. This will streamline the process and help you get the best possible results.
Tip #7 – Don’t Give Up
The fact of the matter is, you sometimes need to be persistent when making a FEMA claim. Sometimes, you will call and get an agent who is not particularly helpful. Try not to get discouraged. Simply hang up the phone with the agent and call back in order to get a different one. Work your way up the chain of command if you have to.
If you have a legal question about your claim, don’t be afraid to ask a lawyer for help. If you have an insurance claim that was denied, you can request information about why your claim was denied by creating a free customized Request for Information About Insurance Denial document.
This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.