Survivors of Hurricanes Irma and Maria who registered with FEMA for disaster assistance receive a determination letter with their eligibility decision and the reason for it.
For those who are eligible, the letter states the dollar amount of the grant and how the funds should be used. When ineligible, the letter explains why and how the applicant can appeal that decision.
Understanding Your FEMA Assistance Determination Letter
Applicants who have trouble understanding their determination letter should contact FEMA by visiting a Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) or calling the FEMA helpline. The locations of nearby DRCs can be found at https://www.fema.gov/disaster/4339/DRC. The helpline number is 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or (TTY) 1-800-462-7585 for the speech and hearing impaired. Services are available in Spanish and English (press 2 for Spanish).
It’s important to read the letter carefully to identify the reason for being declared ineligible. Some common reasons include:
- The person is insured and needs to provide an insurance settlement or denial to be considered for assistance.
- Additional information is needed from the survivor, i.e. proof of identity, proof of occupancy, annual income or a child care assistance letter.
- There were multiple registrations using the same address.
- Damages occurred to a secondary residence (where the survivor lives less than six months of the year).
- The home is safe to occupy and/or personal property had minimum or no damages.
- Missed inspections and no follow-up communication with FEMA.
- FEMA is unable to contact you.
Once an applicant understands the reason for being ineligible, they can decide whether to appeal the decision. To do so, they need to submit all required information with a letter describing in detail their reason (or reasons) for appealing.
Every page of the appeal letter should include the applicant’s full name, address of the damaged property, disaster registration ID number and disaster number (DR-FEMA-4336 for Hurricane Irma and DR-FEMA-4339 for Hurricane Maria).
The applicant should also attach documentation about unmet needs they believe were not covered by the initial decision. This might include official insurance documents, receipts for out-of-pocket expenses (including home repair or hotel expenses) and official estimates including the contractor’s license and contact information.
Applicants should submit their appeal letter within 60 days of the receipt of their FEMA determination letter.
How to Appeal a FEMA Decision
Registered survivors receive a determination letter from FEMA stating an eligibility decision. Each registration is processed and evaluated on a case-by-case basis, so survivors are encouraged to read their letter very carefully and respond if you do not agree with the determination.
Survivors may have received a letter from FEMA and if they do not agree, the reason for the decision may be something that can be easily fixed, such as providing insurance documents or new contact information.
Applicants can appeal any FEMA decision.
Appeals must be made in writing and sent by mail or fax to FEMA within 60 days of receiving the letter.
Mail appeals to:
National Processing Service Center
P.O. Box 10055
Hyattsville, MD 20782-8055
Appeals, pictures and documents can be faxed to 800-827-8112 or uploaded to your FEMA account.
Tips on how to write an effective appeal:
- In the first paragraph, list the applicant's full legal name used on the aid application, along with Social Security number and the FEMA case number. Include a current mailing address, a personal phone number and a back-up phone number where the applicant can be reached.
- Write an explanation of events to support the appeal. Summarize changes in circumstances or needs, additional damage to property discovered after the registration was filed or higher-than-anticipated repair costs.
- Include copies of receipts for home repairs. Submitting repair estimates, receipts, statements or invoices is recommended.
- Keep a copy of the appeal letter and supporting documentation as a record.
Survivors who still need additional assistance or have question may:
- Call the FEMA Helpline at 1-800-621-3362, TTY 1-800-462-7585 or visit a local Disaster Recovery Center.
- Search for locations and hours of operation at https://www.fema.gov/disaster/4339/DRC.
Survivors in Puerto Rico Can Self-Declare Home Ownership, Occupancy
Hurricane survivors in Puerto Rico who cannot prove ownership or occupancy of their homes have other ways of meeting FEMA requirements for home repair or other disaster assistance.
In order to receive a home repair grant, owners must have registered with FEMA and must provide proof of home ownership and occupancy. Renters must prove occupancy at the time of the disaster to receive federal assistance.
Puerto Rico’s recovery after Hurricane Maria has been unique in many ways, including these verification challenges. It is important for survivors to know that if all forms of verification were destroyed or are not available, FEMA may accept a signed self-declaration.
“We know that many survivors do not have standard proofs of ownership or occupancy,” Federal Coordinating Officer Mike Byrne said. “We’re working to remove these obstacles and ensure eligible survivors get the assistance they need to recover.”
Survivors who were initially denied repair or replacement assistance on account of unverified ownership or occupancy can contact local legal aid groups for help completing their appeals.
After registering and having their home inspected for damage, applicants receive a determination letter from FEMA. This letter might ask applicants to provide proof of home ownership or occupancy to be considered eligible for assistance. It’s important to understand all types of documents FEMA may consider to verify this information.
Proof of Ownership
This includes any of the following:
- Deed, title or lease.
- Bill of sale or bond for title.
- Bill of payment record.
- Land installment contract.
- Mortgage payment booklet.
- Property tax receipt or property tax bill.
- Real property structure insurance.
- Last will and testament (and death certificate) naming applicant heir to the property.
- Manufactured home certificate of title.
- Real estate provision.
- Quitclaim deed.
- Property Title Certificate from Puerto Rico Department of Housing. For more information visit the nearest Department of Housing Regional Office.
- Life Estate issued by the Puerto Rico Department of Housing or local municipality.
Proof of Occupancy
This documentation can include:
- Utility bill such as electric, water/sewer, etc.
- Merchant statement such as bank or credit card statement.
- Phone, cable or satellite bill.
- Employer statement.
- Driver’s license or state-issued identification card.
All documents submitted must be dated within 3 months prior to the disaster.
If standard documents proving home ownership or occupancy were destroyed or are unavailable to the applicant, FEMA may accept a signed self-declaration. This is a written document in which applicants declare themselves the legitimate owners or occupants of the property. This document does not need to be notarized, but must include the following information:
- Applicant’s name, signature and the date.
- Address of the damaged house.
- How long the applicant owned or occupied the damaged house before the disaster.
- An explanation of why the applicant cannot provide standard ownership or occupancy documentation, such as that the documents were lost in the storm, etc.
- The statement: “I declare under penalty of perjury that this Declaration of Ownership (or Occupancy) is true and correct.”
Applicants need to be aware that in order for the self-declaration to be considered valid the information in the document must match the FEMA application.
Applicants can submit their standard or self-declared proof of ownership or occupancy documentation:
- Uploading the documentation to their FEMA account at DisasterAssistance.gov.
- Taking the documentation to the nearest disaster recovery center. To find the closest center visit FEMA.gov/DRC.
Besides going online to their FEMA account or visiting any disaster recovery center, survivors with questions concerning proof of ownership or any other matter can call the FEMA Helpline at 800-621-FEMA (3362). Persons who are deaf, hard of hearing or have a speech disability and use a TTY may call 800-462-7585. Toll-free numbers are open daily from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.