FEMA opens disaster recovery sites: Directions given for those needing aid
Compiled by Joe Southern
Just as FEMA is closing its Stafford office from the first flood in April it is opening two new offices for those affected by the most recent flooding. The Fort Bend Disaster Recovery Center opened Wednesday in Rosenberg at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, 1600 Ave D. Another center is open in Fulshear at Huggins Elementary School, 1 Huggins Drive.
The centers will be open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. It will be closed Sundays.
WHAT TO EXPECT AFTER FEMA REGISTRATION
When disaster survivors register for federal assistance, FEMA requires applicants to provide specific information to help determine eligibility.
When registering, all applicants will be asked for the following:
Social Security number;
Address of the damaged primary residence;
Description of the damage;
Information about insurance coverage;
A current contact telephone number;
An address where they can receive mail;
Annual gross household income;
A bank account and routing numbers for direct deposit of funds, and;
Identification and proof of occupancy such as a lease, rent receipt or utility bill.
Additionally, homeowners are asked to provide proof of ownership such as a property deed or title, mortgage payment book, property insurance policy or tax receipts.
Important documents destroyed in the disaster may be duplicated with help from outside sources such as a county clerk’s office, insurance agency or utility company.
DAMAGE INSPECTIONS SPEED UP THE PROCESS
After registering for federal disaster assistance, a FEMA contract inspector contacts the applicant and makes an appointment to view the disaster damage. Applicants unable to be present for the inspection can designate someone in the household over 18 years of age to handle the inspection as long as that person was also living in the household prior to the disaster. If an inspection cannot be made, FEMA may not be able to finish processing the application.
FEMA inspectors have the applicant’s nine-digit case number assigned at registration and always carry FEMA identification badges with a photograph. Inspections are free; inspectors are not authorized to ask for personal financial information other than to verify information provided at registration. The inspection may last only 10 or 20 minutes. The inspector does not make decisions on eligibility. After the inspection, applicants receive a letter from FEMA explaining their eligibility for assistance.
If eligible, homeowners may use FEMA housing assistance grants to repair or replace plumbing, electrical and heating systems; roofs; outside walls and foundations; windows, doors, floors, walls, ceilings and cabinetry; septic and well systems; mobile home resetting and anchoring; and reconnecting utilities.
Both renters and homeowners may qualify for grants for other disaster-related necessary expenses and serious needs, such as clothing, childcare, room furnishings and appliances, medical and dental costs, vehicles and moving and storage expenses.
HOW TO REGISTER
Texans can register the following ways: online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov or by phone 800-621-3362 (FEMA). Persons who are deaf, hard of hearing or have a speech disability and use a TTY may call 800-462-7585. Applicants who use 711 or Video Relay Service may also call 800-621-3362. The toll-free numbers are open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week. Multilingual operators are available.
They can also visit a disaster recovery center. To find the nearest center, go online to the Disaster Recovery Center Locator at asd.fema.gov/inter/locator/home.
The disaster declaration for the May storms and flooding makes federal assistance available to affected individuals and households in 12 counties: Austin, Brazoria, Brazos, Fort Bend, Grimes, Hidalgo, Hood, Montgomery, San Jacinto, Travis, Waller and Washington.
Individuals with a disability needing an accommodation to access Braille or large print, should let FEMA representatives know. American Sign Language interpreters can be available, if requested, by calling Everett Sedgwick at 202-870-4129.
For more information on the Texas recovery, visit the disaster webpage for the recent storms at fema.gov/disaster/4272; or visit the Texas Division of Emergency Management website at txdps.state.tx.us/dem. They are also on Twitter @femaregion6.
Download fema.gov/mobile-app to locate open shelters and disaster recovery centers, receive severe weather alerts, safety tips and much more.
APPEALS FOR AID REJECTION
Not every Texan who registered for federal disaster assistance following the April storms and flooding will qualify for aid. However, an appeal process can ensure those affected by the storms will receive all aid for which they are legally eligible.
People who live or work in the following 12 counties may be eligible for assistance for the April 17-24 storms: Austin, Colorado, Fayette, Fort Bend, Grimes, Harris, Liberty, Montgomery, Parker, San Jacinto, Waller and Wharton.
Applicants from those counties have 60 days from the date on FEMA’s determination letter to file their appeal. The FEMA letter describes the amount and type of assistance being offered.
Applicants who are dissatisfied with FEMA’s decision may call the FEMA helpline at 800-621-3362 (FEMA) or TTY 800-462-7585 for information on how to file an appeal. Specialists are available from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week.
Additional information is available on pages 9-10 of the FEMA booklet, “Help after a Disaster: Applicant’s Guide to the Individuals & Households Program.” The free booklet is available in multilingual formats as a PDF to download at fema.gov/help-after-disaster.
To appeal FEMA’s decision, write a letter explaining why the amount or type of assistance authorized is not correct. The letter should also include: applicant’s full name, last four digits of the applicant’s Social Security number, applicant’s FEMA registration number, the disaster number (DR-4269-TX), address of the damaged property, current contact information and signature of the applicant.
Sign, date and mail the letter to: FEMA, National Processing Service Center, P.O. Box 10055, Hyattsville, MD 20782-7055. Letters may also be faxed to 800-827-8112 with a cover sheet marked: Attention – FEMA.
BEWARE OF DISASTER-RELATED FRAUD AND SCAMS
As storms and flooding wreak havoc across Texas, FEMA officials are warning of another danger: scam artists and unscrupulous contractors out to fleece communities and survivors struggling to recover from disaster.
Be aware of these most common post-disaster scams:
Housing inspectors: If home damage is visible from the street, an owner/applicant may be vulnerable to those who pose as housing inspectors and claim to represent FEMA or the U.S. Small Business Administration. Ask for identification. Federal and state representatives carry photo ID. A FEMA or SBA shirt or jacket is not proof of affiliation with the government.
FEMA inspectors never ask for banking or other personal information. FEMA housing inspectors verify damage but do not hire or endorse specific contractors to fix homes or recommend repairs. They do not determine eligibility for assistance.
Building contractors: Natural disasters bring out fraudulent contractors offering clean-up and repairs. When hiring a contractor:
Use licensed local contractors backed by reliable references; recovery experts recommend getting a written estimate from at least three contractors, including the cost of labor and materials; and read the fine print.
Demand that contractors carry general liability insurance and workers’ compensation. If he or she is not insured, you may be liable for accidents that occur on your property.
Avoid paying more than half the costs upfront. Doing so offers little incentive for the contractor to return to complete repairs.
Pleas for post-disaster donations: Con artists play on the sympathies of disaster survivors, knowing that people want to help others in need. Disaster aid solicitations may arrive by phone, email, letter or face-to-face visits. Verify charitable solicitations:
Ask for the charity’s exact name, street address, phone number and web address, then phone the charity to confirm that the person asking for funds is an employee or volunteer.
Don’t pay with cash. Pay with a check made out to the charity in case funds must be stopped later.
Request a receipt. Legitimate nonprofit agencies routinely provide receipts for tax purposes.
Offers of state or federal aid: Beware of anyone claiming to be from FEMA or the state and asking for a Social Security number, bank account number or other sensitive information. Scammers may solicit by phone or in person, promising to speed up the insurance, disaster assistance or building permit process. Others promise a disaster grant and ask for large cash deposits or advance payments. Here’s how to protect yourself:
Federal and state workers do not solicit or accept money. FEMA and SBA staff never charge applicants for disaster assistance, inspections or help in filling out applications. If you have any doubts, do not give out information and file a report with the police.
If you suspect fraud, call the FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721. If you are a victim of a home repair or price-gouging scam, call the Office of the Texas Attorney General at 800-252-8011. For information regarding disaster-related fraud and how to protect yourself, visit texasattorneygeneral.gov/cpd/disaster-scams.