FEMA encourages denied storm damage applicants to provide more information

We're hearing from many people who say they're frustrated their FEMA applications have been turned down despite damage to their homes or having no running water. We took your questions to FEMA. 

Houston resident Joaquin Escobar tells us his application was turned down. 

He says his in-laws own the house and don't have homeowner's insurance. He showed us how broken pipes mean they have to turn water on to the house just to flush a toilet or take a shower, then run outside to turn the water back off before it floods out the bottom of the toilet.  


His question to FEMA, "I would ask them if there are any other qualifications outside of what was prompted to the application itself?"

FEMA spokesman Kurt Pickering answered, "They look at the damage in the household. But also one of the reasons it's so case by case is they look at the size of the household, the makeup of the household. A family of four with two different gendered children needs a different set up to be in a serviceable home than a single person."

Pickering says common reasons applicants are declined include needing to provide more documentation, such as showing their insurance has declined or won't cover the cost of the repair, documenting damage to the home, or showing proof, such as a bill, that they live there. 

"It's actually a determination letter and it's not necessarily permanent. If you did something, like forget to fill in your Social Security number, you'll get such a letter. But people tend to stop reading it when they see denied or ineligible," explained Pickering.


Many people asked why their FEMA letters are directing them to apply for SBA loans.  

Pickering says they should apply for SBA loans because if they don't qualify financially for one, they'll be referred back to FEMA for need-based assistance. 

"If they can't give you a loan, then they'll refer you back to us and that's the only way to get into the Other Needs Assistance program. So it's to your benefit to register with SBA even if you don't want a loan," said Pickering. 

Many viewers asked what to do if their FEMA application is declined.

Pickering tells us they can either apply for an SBA loan, or appeal the declined application.  

"The way to appeal, you need to provide documents to DisasterAssistance.gov and you need to send a letter, with accompanying documents. They have to be postmarked within 60 days of the date on your letter that FEMA sent you," said Pickering. 

Viewers wanted to know the timeline for getting aid.

Answered Pickering, "First, I want to make sure you understand you may get money before you go to SBA. That's not contingent on each other. We've already put out, closing in on $2 million."  

He says if an applicant hasn't heard back within a week, they should call FEMA at (800) 621-3362.


Renters asked if they can qualify for FEMA aid even though their landlords are responsible for repairs.

"Just being a renter doesn't make you ineligible. You can't get repairs because that's the property of the owner, but you can get assistance with things like damage to your contents," he said. 

Pickering says people should file insurance claims before applying for aid because FEMA can not duplicate any expense insurance will cover. 

People can apply for FEMA aid at DisasterAssistance.gov, by downloading the FEMA app, or calling 800-621-3362

They can also call 211, the United Way Helpline, if they need a repair right away.