The primary purpose of the Disaster Assistance Team is to assist individuals who applied for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) but disagree with FEMA’s decision regarding their claim. The Disaster Assistance Team also advises clients about other disaster-assistance programs for which they may be eligible. Disaster victims with cases dominated by landlord-tenant, real property, consumer, or other legal issues will be referred to other TRLA practice teams as appropriate.
FEMA can provide financial assistance to persons affected by a federally declared disaster. Generally, FEMA takes applications for assistance for 60 days following the date a disaster is declared. An applicant must be a legal resident of one of the counties for which the disaster was declared in order to be eligible for assistance from FEMA. It is a violation of Federal law to file a false claim for disaster assistance.
FEMA can provide financial assistance in order to meet a variety of disaster victim’s needs, including the following:
- repairs necessary to make your home safe and habitable;
- repair or replacement of household items;
- repair or replacement of a vehicle that was damaged to the point that it cannot be used;
- moving and storage expenses;
- medical or dental costs resulting from the declared disaster and
- funeral expenses related to a death caused by the disaster.
FEMA applicants receive letters advising them of the decisions made regarding their claims. If financial assistance is denied, the letter will indicate the reason for the denial. If financial assistance is being provided, the letter will state for what purpose the funds must be used.
Applicants who receive financial assistance from FEMA should keep receipts demonstrating that they spent the money as FEMA intended. FEMA can ask to see those receipts up to three years after assistance is received. If the money is not spent as FEMA intended, an applicant could be required to return the money.
If the letter from FEMA contains a decision with which an applicant disagrees, he or she has 60 days to appeal in writing. Applicants may be dissatisfied with the amount of assistance provided by FEMA or a claim may have been denied altogether. Either way, the Disaster Assistance Team may be able to help dissatisfied FEMA applicants submit their appeals.
Other disaster-related assistance programs include
- Disaster Unemployment Assistance, which can be provided to people out of work because of the disaster;
- Tax relief, which is available through the Internal Revenue Service for disaster victims with certain types of losses; and
- United States Small Business Administration loans, which are available to eligible homeowners and renters (not just business owners) who need funds to restore or replace property damaged during a disaster.