BRIDGEPORT, W. Va. -- People who have applied for a federal disaster housing assistance grant to help cover costs from the June 3 - 7 storms that swept through West Virginia should not despair if the first response they receive is negative.
"Every applicant has the right to appeal," said Ed Smith, federal coordinating officer for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), "and, depending on the circumstances, may be able to reverse the initial ruling. When you appeal a decision, you are simply asking FEMA to take another look." The appeal process is explained in detail in the letter the applicant receives.
If applicants receive a letter saying they are ineligible, they can meet with a specialist at one of the Disaster Recovery Centers (DRC) to get help with appealing. At this time there are DRCs open in four counties. Mobile Disaster Recovery Centers in Fairmont and West Union will close this Saturday, July 12. The last two centers in this disaster, located in Glenville and Shinnston, will close July 17, after which applicants may call FEMA's Helpline, 800-621-3362. If the center is closed, the Helpline specialist can assist. All centers operate from 10 a.m. - 7 p.m. daily except Sunday.
The denial letter does not necessarily mean that an applicant cannot receive state-federal assistance. It often indicates that FEMA did not receive all the information the agency is legally required to have before providing financial aid. In that case, an appeal that supplies the missing information may be successful.
Typical reasons for ineligibility because of incomplete information are that the applicant did not sign documents or:
- 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;
Other reasons FEMA might send a letter of ineligibility that may be appealed are that the applicant has not completed and returned the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) loan application for homeowners and renters, which is a necessary step before FEMA can consider other grant assistance, or that the damages were too small to qualify for assistance. Currently, the minimum is $50.
Still another reason could be that the losses are covered by insurance. FEMA cannot duplicate insurance benefits. If the applicant can show the need for help with losses not covered by insurance, an appeal may be successful.
An appeal may also be made when an applicant receives an award but believes the amount to be too low.
Appeals must be made within 60 days of the ineligibility 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 7 a.m.-7 p.m. on Helpline, 800-621-FEMA (3362), or for the hearing- and speech-impaired, TTY 800-462-7585. Applicants can check the status of their appeals or ask questions about a their denial letter on these same telephone numbers or by accessing the FEMA Web site.
"We want to ensure everyone who is eligible receives all the federal-state assistance they are eligible to receive," said Jimmy Gianato, state coordinating officer and director of the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DHSEM). "People should not be discouraged if they need to file an appeal. It is a normal process to get help for which an applicant is eligible."