What to know about dealing with FEMA after Harvey

If you or your clients live in one of the counties in Texas where the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is providing individual assistance to those affected by Hurricane Harvey, it’s not too late to apply.

The agency accepts applications for 60 days after a disaster is declared, making the deadline October 24 for those affected by Harvey. That deadline could be extended if requested by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

For those who’ve already applied for assistance from FEMA, the wait for a home inspection is currently over 20 days, according to FEMA Media Relations Manager Bob Howard. That’s longer than the typical 10-day wait but is expected to decrease as fewer new applications come in, Howard said.

FEMA has already approved more than 200,000 individual applications for assistance in Texas. Those who have applied and weren’t initially approved can expect to receive a letter in the mail explaining why. “It’s really important for them to read it,” Howard said. Getting approved could be a simple fix.

According to Howard, there are three common reasons applications aren’t initially approved: missing documentation, insurance information not being provided, and a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan application not being filled out. If your application was denied for one of these reasons, you can send the requested information to FEMA for reconsideration of your application.

“It’s great when the federal government comes in and says they’re going to give you money—and eventually they will—but they’re going to drive you nuts for six months to a year until they finally give you that check. … So, what I’ve learned is, most of the guys you’re dealing with on a low-end level, they don’t know the answers because they just got hired. Email with them for documentation and accountability.”

—Eric Birchler, broker/owner of Birchler, REALTORS® in Lavallette, New Jersey. Birchler’s business and property is on a barrier island that was hit hard by Superstorm Sandy in October 2012.

Lower-income individuals will not be sent an SBA loan application, but those who do receive the SBA application must complete it before their FEMA application will be processed. Completing the SBA loan application does not require you take out a loan, but being approved for a loan may make you ineligible for certain types of FEMA grants.

Help completing FEMA assistance applications can be found at disaster recovery centers across Texas. “We’re opening new disaster recovery centers as fast as we can,” Howard said. A current list of disaster recovery centers can be found at fema.gov. SBA personnel at these disaster recovery centers can help complete loan applications. Note that landlords, homeowners, and renters qualify for low-interest loans from the SBA following disasters.

If you receive a letter in response to your application for assistance that asks for additional documentation or materials, you have up to 60 days from the date the letter is postmarked to mail or fax your response. Or you can take the letter to the closest disaster recovery center, and staff there can pull up your application and help you complete it.

About Texas Association of REALTORS®

The voice for Texas real estate
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