When natural disasters strike, victims can be left in desperate conditions. But the process for obtaining relief from FEMA isn't automatic. According to the legal experts, some families make mistakes in filing that can delay or prevent recovery. This video is intended to help disaster victims and explains how to avoid 5 common mistakes in filing a FEMA claim.
Special thanks to Adrienne Houghton for volunteering her time and energy. In creating this video, TalksOnLaw relied on insight from pro bono and public interest attorney experts. Special thanks to APBCo (The Association of Pro Bono Counsel), NYLAG (and Will Friedman in particular), and the New York Chief Judge's Task Force on Hurricane Relief.
Adrienne Houghton is an actress and an advocate for natural disaster victims.
California Fires Update: FEMA announced that federal disaster assistance has been made available in California for areas affected by wildfires beginning on November 8, 2018 (including the Woolsey Fire and the Camp Fire). For updates, visit: https://www.fema.gov/disaster/4407.
Hurricane Michael Update: Affected states are Florida, Georgia, and Alabama. For information on applying for FEMA assistance and latest updates, visit: https://www.fema.gov/hurricane-michael.
Hurricane Florence Update: Affected states are North Carolina and South Carolina. For information on applying for FEMA assistance and latest updates, visit: www.fema.gov/hurricane-florence.
Adrienne Houghton: Hi, I’m Adrienne Houghton, and my family was personally affected by the recent hurricane in Puerto Rico. Natural disasters are absolutely devastating, and the victims desperately need government funding. But the benefits are not always automatic. So if you ever think you need disaster relief, you’re gonna want to listen to what I’m about to say.
Mistake number one: failing to document damage. Now, naturally, when something is broken, your first instinct is to fix it. Not in this case. You want to document what happened; you want to document the damage; so that means taking photos on any camera you can find even if it’s your camera phone. You definitely want to document the damage before you go ahead and fix it.
Mistake number two: throwing away your receipts. You need to save your receipts for disaster related expenses meaning if you need it for damages. If you need it even for a hotel or temporary living, you need to be able to prove that because years later they can come audit you and make sure you used the money properly.
Mistake number three: avoiding the FEMA inspector. You don’t want to avoid this person. Hopefully this person can help you out, and you can actually be super helpful in the inspection. Be there with the person to make sure they don’t overlook some of the damage you may have suffered.
Number four: filing a disorganized application. You definitely don’t want do this; you don’t want to send in a rambling essay and a shoebox of receipts from Home Depot that no one really understands. What you should do is provide a simple cover letter that explains everything you’ve submitted. For example, you can say, "I am still staying at a temporary home. Please find attached my rent receipts for November," and it have attached.
Mistake number five: throwing away your documents after you have been approved or denied. This happens all the time. You get approved and you’re like, “Oh, I received what I needed,” and you throw away the documents. WRONG! You need to keep everything. Hopefully, these tips help you avoid these common mistakes and make sure you get all the help that you need. My name is Adrienne Houghton and thanks for watching TalksOnLaw.