Courtesy of iii.org
For those who do not have the right insurance, or who need help beyond their coverage, government programs can sometimes step in to help with post-disaster recovery. Here is a round-up of the most frequently asked questions about the disaster assistance offered by FEMA.
Q. How do I apply for FEMA disaster assistance?
A. You can apply at www.DisasterAssistance.gov or m.fema.gov, or call the FEMA Helpline at 800-621-3362. If you have a speech disability or hearing impairment and use a TTY, call 800-462-7585 directly. If you use 711 or Video Relay Service (VRS), call 800-621-3362.
Q. What happens after I apply for disaster assistance?
A. FEMA will mail you a copy of your application and a copy of Help After a Disaster: Applicant's Guide to the Individuals and Households Program that will answer many of your questions.
- If you do not have insurance: An inspector will contact you after you apply to schedule a time to meet you at your damaged home.
- If you have insurance: You need to file your insurance claim and provide FEMA with a decision letter (settlement or denial) from your insurance company before FEMA issues an inspection.
- There is an exception for damages caused by flooding; if you have flood insurance, FEMA will issue an inspection before receiving a copy of your flood insurance decision letter to evaluate your eligibility for temporary living expenses since these are not covered by flood insurance.
- About 10 days after the inspection FEMA will decide if you qualify for assistance. If so, FEMA will send you a check by mail (or direct deposit) with an explanation of what the money covers (i.e. rent or home repair).
- If FEMA determines that you are ineligible for any reason, you will receive a letter and be given a chance to appeal. Appeals must be in writing and mailed within 60 days of the determination. Read the letter carefully for the reason of ineligibility before filing your appeal.
- If you get a Small Business Administration (SBA) Disaster Loan application in the mail, you must complete and return it to be considered for a loan or certain types of grant assistance, such as transportation, personal property, and moving and storage.
Q. Why didn’t I receive rental assistance when my home can’t be lived in?
A. If you cannot live in your home because of disaster damage and you did not receive rental assistance, please contact FEMA to check on your status. It could be that during the inspection you indicated that you were unwilling to relocate. If so, FEMA would not move forward to issuing a rental assistance check for you to move to another location.
Q. I received a rental assistance check, how do I find a new place to rent?
A. The FEMA Housing Portal is intended to help individuals and families, who have been displaced by a disaster, find a place to live. The portal consolidates rental resources to help individuals and families find available rental units in their area. This information can be accessed by visiting www.fema.gov and searching “Housing Portal,” or by calling 800-621-3362.
Q. Will my family get assistance faster if we each apply separately?
A. No. If two members of the same household apply for the same damaged home, FEMA assistance could actually be delayed. If more than one member of a household has applied, the additional registrants should call the FEMA Helpline, 800-621-3362 to withdraw their applications. Once this occurs, the original registration for the household can be processed for assistance.
Q. If I received a settlement from my insurance but still have additional needs, what can I do?
A. As soon as you receive an insurance settlement, you should provide a copy to FEMA and identify any unmet needs you have. Although FEMA cannot duplicate benefits that your insurance provided, FEMA may be able to assist you with lost essential items not covered by insurance and can also help you find resources through other recovery partners.
Q. Why did I get a different amount of home repair assistance than my neighbor?
A. Each survivor’s case is unique. There are several factors involved, including insurance status and the extent and type of damage found during the home inspection. If you feel that the assistance you received does not cover your needs for example, the funding you received for repairs are less than the estimates you’ve received from contractors and you have not yet met the FEMA maximum grant you can appeal.
Q. Will FEMA provide additional rental assistance beyond the initial assistance period if I still cannot return to my home?
A. Rental assistance can be provided for up to 18 months from the date of declaration while you are setting up your permanent housing plan. After your initial period of assistance, you will be sent a letter on how to “recertify” if you need additional rental assistance.
Q. Could FEMA assistance affect my Social Security benefits, federal taxes, food stamp (SNAP) eligibility, or Medicaid?
A. No. FEMA assistance does not affect benefits from other federal programs and is not considered taxable income.
Q. I've already cleaned up the damage to my home and made repairs. Is it too late to register once the work is done?
A. No. You may be eligible for reimbursement of your cleanup and repair costs, even if repairs are complete. The important thing is to document the expenses you incur. It is a good idea to take before-and-after photos for your records.
Q. If I received disaster assistance last year, could I get it again this year?
A. Assistance may be available if you also suffered damages from a previously federally declared disaster.
Q. My child is a U.S. citizen, but I am not. Can I apply for FEMA disaster assistance?
A. If anyone in an affected household is a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national or qualified alien (a “Green Card” holder), they are eligible to apply for FEMA disaster assistance. If a minor child is eligible by these criteria, even when other members of the family are not, the family can file an application on the child’s behalf.
In this case, all identification documents have to be in the child’s name and Social Security number. The copy of the child’s Social Security card and birth certificate are acceptable verification. This information can be mailed to FEMA or brought to a Disaster Recovery Center.
For more information, visit the FEMA website.
Courtesy of iii.org
Business interruption insurance can be as vital to your survival as a business as fire insurance. Most people would never consider opening a business without buying insurance to cover damage due to fire and windstorms. But too many small businessowners fail to think about how they would manage if a fire or other disaster damaged their business premises so that they were temporarily unusable. Business interruption coverage is not sold separately. It is added to a property insurance policy or included in a package policy.
A business that has to close down completely while the premises are being repaired may lose out to competitors. A quick resumption of business after a disaster is essential.
- Business interruption insurance compensates you for lost income if your company has to vacate the premises due to disaster-related damage that is covered under your property insurance policy, such as a fire. Business interruption insurance covers the revenue you would have earned, based on your financial records, had the disaster not occurred. The policy also covers operating expenses, like electricity, that continue even though business activities have come to a temporary halt.
- Make sure the policy limits are sufficient to cover your company for more than a few days. After a major disaster, it can take more time than many people anticipate to get the business back on track. There is generally a 48-hour waiting period before business interruption coverage kicks in.
- The price of the policy is related to the risk of a fire or other disaster damaging your premises. All other things being equal, the price would probably be higher for a restaurant than a real estate agency, for example, because of the greater risk of fire. Also, a real estate agency can more easily operate out of another location.
Extra expense insurance
Extra expense insurance reimburses your company for a reasonable sum of money that it spends, over and above normal operating expenses, to avoid having to shut down during the restoration period. Usually, extra expenses will be paid if they help to decrease business interruption costs. In some instances, extra expense insurance alone may provide sufficient coverage, without the purchase of business interruption insurance.
Courtesy of iii.org
Natural disasters (such as a flood, earthquake, hurricane or tornado) sometimes invite another type of disaster: “Storm Chasers” who try to profit from others’ unfortunate circumstances. These profiteers take many forms – from workers posing as qualified contractors to “volunteers” trying to help only themselves to lawyers and public adjusters offering to take over your claim. If you start having second thoughts about anyone who has offered assistance after disaster strikes, here are some tips to get you back on course:
- Never feel pressured to make a decision.
While the need to recover quickly is understandable, do not succumb to a high-pressure sales pitch. If you’ve signed an agreement or contract, remember the Federal Trade Commission has rules protecting consumers that allow you to cancel a contract up until midnight of the third business day after entering into it. This applies to door-to-door sales contracts for more than $25, as well as sale contracts for more than $25 made at any place other than a seller’s usual place of business. Additionally, states have similar rules to help consumers having second thoughts on the contracts they’ve signed.
- Think carefully about signing over your claim to an outsider.
This may sound like a good idea, since it appears to free you from handling the details of disaster recovery. However, what often happens when a third-party (which can be a contractor or public adjuster) takes over your claim is that you lose control of it and repair costs may be greatly inflated, delayed or not in compliance with building codes. The desire to get the job done right the first time makes a good case for the homeowner to stay involved in the process.
- Always deal with a licensed, insured contractor for both temporary and permanent repairs.
Be certain to have a pro handle your job. Unlicensed individuals may actually cause more damage to your property. And, if they are injured on your property, they may hold you liable if they do not have their own insurance. You can request to see their license and verify it with state or county officials. Unlicensed contractors can be reported to your state’s licensing board. Keep receipts for temporary repairs, as your insurer will reimburse you for these expenses.
- Know that your insurer is an on-call advisor to help you through every step of the claims process.
Home and business insurance policies comes with claims services, so consult your insurer as soon as possible after disaster strikes. Disaster claims are handled based on the severity of damage, so those most impacted get priority. That is why it is important to provide an accurate preliminary account of the damage when you make the initial call to your insurer. Also, be sure to mention any circumstances that may necessitate expedited claims handling, such as special needs situations. Contact the department of insurance in your state if you have complaints.
- Report the scam to local police and your state insurance department.
These scams can happen to anyone, so don’t hesitate to contact authorities. Many states also have consumer affairs departments to assist you in answering questions, protecting your interests and filing charges, if necessary.