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What to do if you receive a recoupment letter from FEMA



Since January, we have been providing updates on this blog about the revamped recoupment process that we are currently undertaking. We are committed to making sure that all of our stakeholders – especially disaster survivors – have a full understanding of this process and how they might be affected by it.

As some of you may remember from our previous blogs, FEMA, along with other federal agencies government-wide, is required by law to identify any potential improper payments of federal disaster aid and to take steps to recover those funds.

While each individual case is different, in some instances you may just have to provide some additional information to show that you were indeed eligible for assistance. We encourage anyone who has questions about their case, wants to appeal the decision, or establish a payment plan to contact us at:


  • 1-800-816-1122 or TTY 1-800-462-7585

Bottom line – these letters are the start of a conversation between you and FEMA, and not the end.

You might be able to give information to FEMA that might change our determination about your status.

So again, everyone should read their letters carefully, ask questions, and ask for help. We are here to serve you – the disaster survivor – and it is your right to appeal our decision.

 

Alabama: Safe rooms, havens of hope

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Last week, the Alabama Emergency Management Agency and FEMA hosted the Safer Alabama Summit conference in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The aim of this conference was to get the word out about the important role that safe rooms can play in protecting families and communities, and federal funding that is available to build them. I wanted to share a conversation that was the perfect conclusion to the event.

Tuscaloosa, Ala., June 13, 2011 -- Federal Coordinating Officer, Michael Byrne, presents at the Safer Alabama Summit.
Tuscaloosa, Ala., June 13, 2011 -- Federal Coordinating Officer, Michael Byrne, presents at the Safer Alabama Summit.

Following the conference, a woman wanted to know how to apply for a grant to finance the construction of a safe room in a school in her community. She was a local councilwoman and she had heard about schools that had been destroyed during the devastating tornadoes of April 27. An elementary school principal in the town of Moulton sent his students home rather than have them shelter in the designated area in the hallway. It was a good thing he did, because many of the children would have been severely injured, or killed, since the roof and walls of the school caved in.

I told the councilwoman what many of the speakers at the summit had emphasized: it all starts with the community. Residents notify their local emergency manager or other appropriate local official about their interest in building a safe room or shelter. The local official then writes a letter to notify the state that the community will be applying for a hazard mitigation grant from FEMA. If the funding is granted, the state manages the program to make sure the final product meets specifications.

“We have a city council meeting at the end of the week, and I’m bringing a letter to notify the state that we will be applying for a grant from FEMA,” she said.

That is exactly what I hoped people would take away from the conference. Safe rooms and shelters come in all shapes and sizes. You can get a small one to stash in your garage, which fits three people. Or you can get a larger one built to serve as a safe haven for members of a school or office. They start at about $3,000 and run upwards depending on how big you make it. And just as a note, communities will only receive a grant to reimburse them if the safe rooms are built to FEMA specifications, which can withstand winds up to 250 mph (an EF-5 tornado).

I hope that the local officials who attended the summit will go back to their communities and look for opportunities and locations for safe rooms, and then, in conjunction with state, federal and other agencies, work on ways to fund and install them. I’m hoping to hear more stories from those writing letters of intent, not only from those in Alabama but also from others across the country.

Alabama: When the going gets tough, even the tough seek help

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As a former New York City firefighter, I’m no stranger to trauma. First responders who have witnessed devastation sometimes can’t get the upsetting images out of their mind. Or sometimes they hear cries for help weeks later. One fire response at a social club in the Bronx more than 20 years ago still stays with me. The fire wasn’t huge, and was contained quickly, but when firefighters went up to the second floor, they found several people had died from smoke inhalation. We were just sick – here they had done everything right and still couldn’t save their lives.

A lot of us were shaken up after that. But back then, most of us at the fire house would have rather had a root canal than talk to a counselor about our feelings.

Unfortunately, firefighters are not the only ones who think that way, and no one is immune to trauma and stress. Studies show that after a disaster, survivors and emergency responders are at risk for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (from epidemiologic reviews). Symptoms can include flashbacks, recurrent nightmares, survival guilt, extreme exhaustion and anxiety.

Five weeks after the devastating tornadoes in Alabama, the Alabama Department of Mental Health and FEMA have partnered to activate Project Rebound, a program that provides crisis counselors to community outreach and education services groups. Teams of these counselors are on the ground to help residents and emergency responders, free of charge, in areas affected by the April tornadoes.

So far, the department has hired 77 Project Rebound crisis counselors for 36 counties participating in the program. Project Rebound crisis counselors will be working with all social services agencies in their community as they reach out to both disaster survivors and emergency responders dealing with the stresses that come with recovering after a disaster.

And because mental health experts say elderly and children are also among those at risk for traumatic stress, Project Rebound is making a special effort to reach out to these survivors as well.

Needing mental health resources after a disaster is something I don’t have to be reminded of, but don’t want others to forget. For more information on Project Rebound, or if you’re a disaster survivor or emergency responder in Alabama, visit http://www.mh.alabama.gov/.

Arkansas: One Month Later – Continuing Down the Road to Recovery

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A FEMA Community Relations specialist speaks with a resident during an community event in Rogers, AR.
Rogers, AR, June 4, 2011 --A FEMA Community Relations specialist speaks with a resident during an community event in Rogers, AR. FEMA Community Relations specialists were at the fair to provide residents about FEMA's disaster relief programs and to encourage residents affected by recent flooding or tornadoes to register for assistance.

Over a month after FEMA’s arrival in Arkansas following the devastating spring storms and tornadoes, state and federal agencies have rushed over $22 million in assistance to families and communities. While much assistance has come quickly, we still have so much more to do as the emergency management team - a team includes Arkansas residents – continues to meet the needs of survivors and the affected communities.

Our operation depends on the more than 300 state and federal workers who are helping survivors get back on their feet. These professionals bring plenty of experience, skills and talents to work for Arkansas disaster survivors. Specialists have visited with more than 2,067 survivors in our 20 disaster recovery centers and disaster assistance centers across the state. Housing inspectors have looked at more than 7,032 damaged homes in the 30 counties eligible for individual assistance. And many folks, such as our call center professionals, continue to work behind the scenes to support our mission.

Each state and federal worker has a role to play in the disaster assistance process, and we encourage survivors to take advantage of this assistance by registering for assistance. Survivors can register in several ways, by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or TTY 1-800-462-7585, visiting http://www.DisasterAssistance.gov/, or via web-enabled phone http://m.fema.gov/. So far, more than 8,900 Arkansans have registered for assistance in one of these ways.

Those with questions about registration, housing inspections, assistance and the recovery process can visit a disaster recovery center or its streamlined cousin, the more mobile disaster assistance center. Of course, many have had an opportunity to visit with one of more than two dozen specialists who have visited all 30 counties designated for individual assistance. They have walked hundreds of miles through damaged neighborhoods handing out fliers and answering survivors’ questions.

A FEMA Mitigation specialist talks to a residents about what needs to be done to protect his home against flooding or potential high winds and tornadoes.
Conway, AR, June 3, 2011 --A FEMA Mitigation specialist talks to a residents about what needs to be done to protect his home against flooding or potential high winds and tornadoes. FEMA specialist are setting up information booths in local hardware stores throughout Arkansas to provide residents with information that may help them protect their property if the area is affected by damaging winds and/or flood waters.

Those survivors who have completed the registration process are among the ones who have qualified for nearly $14.6 million in housing assistance, more than $2.6 million in other needs assistance and over $5.4 million in loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Even as millions in assistance have gone to individuals, families and businesses, our public assistance effort has swung into gear. Public assistance grants are obligated to the state to help make damaged communities whole again. These dollars go to local governments, state agencies, and certain nonprofits to help clean up communities overwhelmed by disaster-related debris, repair roads and bridges, put utilities and water systems back in order, repair hospitals and emergency services, rebuild schools and universities, and put playground equipment back in public parks.

Fifty-two counties across the state have been designated for public assistance. After the devastating flooding in the eastern part of the state, FEMA expedited $360,000 to the state to pay members of the National Guard who placed sandbags in communities to ward off approaching flood waters. Another $278,000 has gone to Garland County for expedited debris removal. The state and communities are now completing their applications for reimbursement of other expenses and repairs incurred as a result of the April and May storms and flooding.

We have had a busy month as our partnerships with local and state governments have shifted into high gear. We feel very proud of what we and our Arkansas partners have accomplished so far – and we will continue to work just as hard in meeting the needs of those individuals and communities affected by the storms.

For the latest updates on the Arkansas recovery efforts, visit the disaster page.

Recap: Secretary Napolitano Visit to Joplin


Secretary Napolitano visited Joplin, Mo. yesterday, meeting with disaster survivors and touring the St. John’s medical facility that was severely damaged during the May 22 tornado. The entire emergency management team – federal, state, local governments; the private sector; voluntary, community, and faith-based groups; and especially the public – continue to support the recovery efforts in Joplin, as well as the other areas hit by severe storms, tornadoes and flooding this spring.

For some more perspective on Secretary Napolitano’s visit, check out these stories from the Joplin Globe, Associated Press, and CNN. And as she said during her visit,

We will not leave until the job is finished...and we will continue to support our team of federal, state, local and community partners that are working tirelessly to help the people of Missouri rebuild their communities.

Dept. of Transportation: FHWA releases Emergency Relief Funds

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Editor's Note: This was originally posted on June 9, 2011 on Fast Lane, the official blog of the U.S. Secretary of Transportation.  The photos are from the FEMA photo library.

The storms that hit Alabama on April 27 swept across the northern portion of the state in 42 counties, with tornadoes cutting huge paths as much as a mile wide.

Tuesday, I toured the devastation in Alabama with U.S. Representatives Spencer Bachus and Terri Sewell, Birmingham Mayor William Bell, Alabama Department of Transportation Director John Cooper, and Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez.

I must say, it’s simply heartbreaking, and our prayers go out to the families affected.

Damaged area in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Tuscaloosa, Ala., June 1, 2011 - A damaged area in Tuscaloosa.

We at DOT salute the tireless first responders, the dedicated clean-up crews, and the selfless volunteers who have brought hope and compassion to people who need it so badly.

In addition to the loss of life and destruction of houses, natural disasters can cause tremendous damage to roads and bridges, leaving a huge financial burden on the states affected. That's why the Federal Highway Administration's emergency relief program provides critical funds to repair or rebuild roads and bridges damaged by natural disasters or catastrophic events.

After touring the damage in Alabama, I announced that, as part of the Obama Administration's disaster response, DOT is making available $1.5 million in quick release emergency funds to begin the considerable job of restoring roads and bridges across the state.

This money, which is a part of the Administration’s all-hands-on-deck response to this tragedy, will reimburse the state for early and crucial repairs made following the storms, including debris removal, sign replacement and traffic signal repairs.

Assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Administration is a crucial part of the administration's relief effort. So, if you have been affected by these storms and haven’t yet signed up for financial assistance from FEMA, we encourage you to do so at www.disasterassistance.gov. It’s not too late.

As President Obama said, "Our biggest priority now is to help this community recover, and we are going to do everything we can to help Alabama's communities rebuild."

This administration is committed to helping Alabama residents recover from this tragedy, and here at DOT, we will continue to do all we can to support that effort.

Alabama: To some it’s debris - to others, a source of hidden treasures

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A homeowner does a final cleanup of his yard before the debris is removed. Operation Clean Sweep is helping residents rid their property of the storm debris.
Pratt City, Ala., June 1, 2011 -- A homeowner does a final cleanup of his yard before the debris is removed. Operation Clean Sweep is helping residents rid their property of the storm debris.

Sometimes debris is just debris. But in a disaster it can be a much-needed glimpse of humanity. My first experience with this was after September 11, 2001, where I was a deputy federal coordinating officer at Ground Zero. Facing an unbelievable amount of destruction and loss amongst the twisted steel and collapsed chaos of dust and debris, I would occasionally spot a piece of a desk, a handwritten note or crumpled photograph and find relief in these signs of life.

For the last few weeks, survivors of Alabama’s onslaught of tornadoes have been in the process of putting their lives back together. Cleaning up after something like this is never easy, but we try to retrieve fragments of the past when we can, like pieces to a puzzle, one memory at a time.

FEMA and the State of Alabama are helping residents clear the enormous piles of debris the April 27 tornadoes left behind. The program, called Operation Clean Sweep, provides funding to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, or to the state and local government to hire a private contractor to remove the rubble on private property in the highest impact areas once the owners sign a “right-of-entry” form.

Operation Clean Sweep is underway in designated Alabama communities to clear debris from areas of catastropic damage. FEMA assigned the task to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Tuscaloosa, AL, June 1, 2011 -- Operation Clean Sweep is underway in designated Alabama communities to clear debris from areas of catastropic damage. FEMA assigned the task to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. (© C.J. Hamilton, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

At the governor’s request, FEMA has increased its share of the debris removal cost to 90 percent, with the non-federal share at 10 percent. The deadline for the program has also been extended, now ending July 12. And if residents follow guidelines for debris separation, it allows some construction material to be salvaged for reuse or recycling. Recycling ultimately helps to free up landfills and save taxpayer dollars.

Many people who have reached out to help the survivors have started their own type of recycling by setting up websites and drop-off points for priceless mementos – things like first-year baby photos, sports memorabilia and handcrafted Mother’s Day cards. Amazingly, the tornado winds blew personal keepsakes clear across state lines. On one Facebook page a couple was thrilled to be reunited with their wedding photo showing them filling a vase in the sand as part of their ceremony on a beach. They were also able to salvage that glass vase beneath the rubble of their house, “untouched.”

Wedding photo of couple at the beach.
Holt, AL, June 1, 2011 -- A couple finds their wedding picture amongst tornado debris. Many Alabamians across the state are recovering from storms and tornadoes that struck in April 2011. (© Published with permission of Kelli Griffin Hallman)

In another story, Jeff and Paula Baccus of Hackleburg, Ala. say they were lucky in that some of their family treasures were not destroyed, although about 50 massive trees fell on their home. Jeff hid in the hallway with the family’s two dogs as the deafening sound of the wind twisted tree trunks. Paula hugged her 16-year-old son in a neighbor’s basement as the roof blew off and the walls collapsed. As with many survivors, they feel blessed to be alive.

The cleanup process has been a team effort for the Baccus family. A few days after the tornado hit, volunteers came from all over the country to help them begin removing debris. The private sector is also engaged, as U.S. Steel donated equipment to help cut away timber from the house.

As the Baccus family and many others continue to sort through what the tornadoes left behind, I hope they can salvage a few tangible pieces of the past that will offer comfort as they move forward in their recovery.

 

Thank You: NFL Players’ Association

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Over the past couple of weeks we’ve worked with numerous partners to meet the needs of survivors of recent storms, tornados and flooding in various parts of the U.S. We wanted to take the time to offer a special “thank you” to the National Football Leagues Players’ Association for the work they have done in Joplin, Mo. following the destructive storms last month. Numerous NFL players have visited survivors of the storms and toured the damages throughout Joplin. They have also helped in getting the word out to register for assistance (like the video above).

We are committed to serving those impacted by the storms and would like to thank the entire emergency management team for their continuous hard work and dedication to the recovery efforts in Missouri. From first responders, to local/state government, to our partners in the private sector, including the NFL Players’ Association, we appreciate all that you have and will continue to do.

To read more about the NFL Players’ Associations work in the recovery of Joplin, visit:

Photos 5: Supporting Efforts for Southern U.S. Tornadoes and Flooding

We continue to support the affected states and the entire emergency management team in the ongoing recovery, from the severe storms in the Midwest to the heavy flooding along the Mississippi River.

Throughout every step of the process, we continue to work with our partners to support those impacted by the recent disasters. Here are some of recent shots from our photo library that show the emergency management team in action:

EMA personnel work inside a Mobile Emergency Response Support vehicle.
Joplin, Mo., May 29, 2011 -- FEMA personnel work inside a Mobile Emergency Response Support vehicle, equipped with video and telephone communications equipment. FEMA is supporting the ongoing recovery efforts in Joplin, Mo., providing assistance to disaster survivors and the affected community.

Administrator Craig Fugate surveys a damaged fire station with a Joplin firefighter.
Joplin, Mo., May 26, 2011 -- Administrator Craig Fugate surveys a damaged fire station with a Joplin firefighter. Visit the disaster page for the latest updates on the Joplin recovery.

Donna Wood, a Red Cross worker talks to a resident of Denning, Ark.
Denning, Ark., May 25, 2011 -- Donna Wood, a Red Cross worker, talks to a resident of Denning, Ark., whose home, in the background, was damaged when a tornado ripped through the area.

Larry Combs, Chase Lewis and Daniel Lewis replace power lines knocked down by a tornado.
Big Rock, Tenn., May 24, 2011 - Larry Combs, Chase Lewis and Daniel Lewis replace power lines knocked down by a tornado which struck May 23. FEMA supports and helps fund replacement of public equipment and facilities.

Members of the Florida Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Association are helping a homeowner cut and pull debris.
Sipsey, Ala., May 24, 2011 -- Members of the Florida Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Association are helping a homeowner cut and pull debris to the street for county pickup. Faith-based volunteers are important partners with FEMA in helping survivors recover from the deadly April tornado.

Logistics teams at the staging area in Camp Beauregard load supplies.
Pineville, La., May 23, 2011 -- Logistics teams at the staging area in Camp Beauregard load what are known as commonly used shelter items kits now part of the commodities delivered to shelters in the event of a disaster.

James Zemlicka, Hazard Mitigation specialist, answers questions for a Lowe's customer on rebuilding safely.
Memphis, TN, May 23, 2011 -- James Zemlicka, Hazard Mitigation specialist, answers questions for a Lowe's customer on rebuilding safely. Hazard Mitigation representatives are located at Lowe's and Home Depot stores throughout western Tennessee.

avid Rodriguez, an applicant assistant specialist, interviews applicants for assistance.
Brayton, Tenn., May 17, 2011 -- David Rodriguez, an applicant assistant specialist, interviews Dorothy L.Green (right), Peggy Giunta and her son Haeden Gray. The applicant interview is an important part of the recovery process.

Shnader Bellegrade, FEMA Community Relations Specialist collaborates with Todd Hallbaur of the American Red Cross.
Vicksburg, Miss., May 18, 2011 -- Shnader Bellegrade, FEMA community relations specialist, collaborates with Todd Hallbaur of the American Red Cross regarding assistance for evacuated survivors of the floods in Vicksburg Miss.

FEMA Community Relations Specialist Steve Huffstutler explains the registration process to a homeowner
Pratt City, Ala., May 17, 2011 – Steve Huffstutler, FEMA community relations specialist, explains the registration process to a homeowner that had some damage to her house. Teams community relations staff are going door-to- door in communities to encourage people to register for assistance and answer questions about the process.

Secretary Napolitano Visits Hackleburg, Alabama


Secretary Napolitano and Congressman Aderholt meet with volunteers at the Hackelburg volunteer coordination center.
Hackleburg, AL, May 29, 2011 -- Secretary Napolitano and Congressman Aderholt meet with volunteers at the Hackelburg volunteer coordination center.

Yesterday, as part of the Obama administration's ongoing commitment to assisting the long-term recovery efforts of communities affected by recent severe weather, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano surveyed the progress made in response and recovery efforts in the month following the storms and tornadoes that struck the Southeast region this spring.

She was joined by Congressman Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), Hackleburg Mayor Douglas Gunnin, Alabama Emergency Management Agency Director Art Faulkner, and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Federal Coordinating Officer Mike Byrne in Hackleburg.

Secretary Napolitano remarked:

We are proud to be part of a great team of state partners, local governments, faith based groups, survivors, long-term community recovery organizations and volunteers who have worked around the clock to help with response and recovery efforts-and we will not leave until the job is finished. The Obama administration remains focused on helping Hackleburg and communities throughout Alabama continue their progress towards rebuilding and recovering to be stronger than before.

Congressman Aderholt also noted:

We are on the road to recovery and we are on it together. I'm encouraged by the relief efforts that continue on the ground, as well as the coordination between all officials and organizations involved in the recovery process. I know Alabamians strength and resiliency will see us through and Alabama will come back, better than ever.

As part of the visit, Secretary Napolitano:

  • Joined Congressman Aderholt, Mayor Gunnin, a member of the Red Cross of Central Alabama, and other Alabama officials to tour Hackleburg High School to survey damages, discuss recovery efforts, and met with the Marion County School Superintendent, Hackleburg High School Principal and students who graduated with the high school's senior class on Friday.
  • Visited the Northwest Alabama United Way Volunteer Center where she met with first responders, as well as the survivors and families who have assisted in the community's recovery efforts over the past month.
  • Met with community leaders at Hackleburg's town hall to discuss the ongoing disaster relief efforts and the progress made within the community.

On April 27, Alabama received a FEMA Emergency Declaration, and on April 28, President Obama issued a Major Disaster Declaration to help communities recover from the damage inflicted by severe storms, tornadoes, and flooding-qualifying residents for individual assistance and Federal assistance.

As of May 27, 2011, FEMA has opened 28 Disaster Relief Centers across Alabama, including one in Franklin County to support the Hackleburg area.

The entire Obama administration has been deeply involved in response and recovery efforts since the storms first hit, including:

  • On May 1, Secretary Napolitano joined Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Administrator Craig Fugate and Small Business Administration Administrator Karen Mills to survey the damage and the early response and recovery efforts underway in Alabama and Mississippi.
  • On May 26, DHS Deputy Secretary Jane Holl Lute traveled to Joplin, Missouri to tour the damaged areas and meet with state and local officials and first responders on the ground.
  • Early last week, Administrator Craig Fugate, Deputy Administrator Richard Serino and other senior DHS officials traveled to the Joplin area following the devastating tornadoes on May 22, 2011 -- working on behalf of President Obama to coordinate the ongoing federal disaster response.
  • Yesterday, President Obama visited Joplin to personally survey the damage and discuss response and relief efforts with first responders on the ground.

Photo of U.S. Department of Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Jane Holl Lute (left) touring tornado damage in Joplin, MO
Joplin, MO, May 26, 2011 -- U.S. Department of Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Jane Holl Lute (left) tours tornado damage with Kathy Sullivan, Assistant Secretary of the Department oF commerce/National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration, in a neighborhood near St. John's Regional Medical Center.


Photo of U.S. Department of Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Jane Holl Lute and Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate listening to first responders
Joplin, MO, May 26, 2011 -- U.S. Department of Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Jane Holl Lute and Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate listen to first responders describe events surrounding Sunday evening's tornado in Joplin.

Families and individuals that have been impacted by the tornadoes and storms, and need assistance have several options for getting help:

  • Registering online at http://www.disasterassistance.gov,
  • Registering through a web-enabled mobile device at m.fema.gov, or
  • Calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or 1-800-462-7585 (TTY) for the hearing and speech impaired. The toll-free telephone numbers will operate from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. (local time) seven days a week until further notice.

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