NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A letter denying disaster benefits to Tennesseans who have applied for federal and state disaster assistance after the tornadoes and storms of early February may not be the last word.
Every applicant has the right to appeal and, depending on the circumstances, may be able to reverse the initial ruling.
"A denial letter does not necessarily mean an applicant is not eligible for assistance," said Gracia Szczech, federal coordinating officerfor the Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). "The letter often indicates FEMA did not receive all the information the agency is legally required to have before providing aid. In such a case, an appeal supplying the missing information will often be successful."
Some reasons for a denial because of incomplete information are that the applicant did not:
- Have a completed insurance settlement;
- Provide proof that the damaged property was the primary residence at the?time of the disaster;
- Provide evidence of identity;
- Provide documentation of the disaster damage;
- Provide proof of ownership of the damaged property;
- Sign documents.
Other reasons FEMA might send a denial letter that may be appealed are: the damages and losses are covered by insurance; the applicant has not completed and returned the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) loan application; or damages were too small to qualify for assistance.
If an applicant receives an award but believes the amount to be too low, an appeal for a higher award can be submitted with documentation to support the increased cost.
Appeals must be made within 60 days of a denial letter. Applicants or someone they designate to act on their behalf must explain in writing why they believe the initial response was wrong and provide any new or additional information and documents that support the appeal.
More information about how to appeal is in the Applicant's Guide that FEMA mails to each applicant and online at www.fema.gov. Applicants may talk with experts daily 8 a.m.- 6 p.m. local time on FEMA's toll free Helpline, 800-621-FEMA (3362), or for the hearing- and speech-impaired, TTY 800-462-7585. Applicants can check the status of their appeals by calling these same numbers or on the FEMA Web site.
"We want to ensure everyone who is eligible receives all the federal assistance they are entitled to," said James Bassham, Director of the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency. "People should not be discouraged if they need to file an appeal to be sure they access the available help."
FEMA's temporary housing assistance and grants for public transportation expenses, medical and dental expenses, and funeral and burial expenses do not require individuals to apply for an SBA loan. However, an applicant must complete an SBA loan application to be eligible for assistance that covers personal property, vehicle repair or replacement, and moving and storage expenses.
All FEMA assistance is subject to eligibility criteria and may vary from disaster to disaster.? SBA eligibility criteria are applied to all applicants.? Applicants who do not qualify for an SBA loan are reviewed for FEMA grant assistance in compliance with the limits established by the state.
Disaster recovery assistance is available without regard to race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, disability, economic status or retaliation. If you or someone you know has been discriminated against, you should call FEMA toll-free at 800-621-FEMA (3362) or contact your State Office of Equal Rights. If suspicious of any abuse of FEMA programs, please contact the fraud hotline at 800-323-8603....