After a disaster, many things start happening all at the same time. However, after a disaster survivors have often lost most of their worldly possessions and paperwork to help prove who they are and what they own. The lack of documentation frequently leads to FEMA denying assistance. The good news is that FEMA gives applicants a way to appeal the initial letter denying them assistance. Here are a few things to know when writing a letter to appeal a FEMA determination:
#1: You Have 60-Days to Make Your Appeal:
The most important part of the appeal process is knowing your deadlines. The clock starts ticking from the date FEMA puts down on the letter. Often, people wait too long and miss this deadline and FEMA stands by their initial decision. Though you can sue FEMA in court without ever filing an appeal, it may be an easier (and cheaper) first step to at least try to work out the issue with FEMA first. Keep in mind that after FEMA gets your letter, they might ask for more documentation through a follow-up letter or a phone call. Usually these requests come with an additional 30-day deadline of their own.
#2: Be Sure to Completely Read FEMA’s Letter Before Writing:
It seems like simple advice to completely read the FEMA determination letter before you start writing, but it’s really the key to success. You need to know why FEMA made their decision to even stand a chance at changing their minds. Frequently it’s just missing documentation. Having proper documentation for every claim is important to FEMA because it helps combat disaster relief fraud.
#3: Include Evidence to Support Your Appeal Request:
Just explaining why FEMA’s decision is wrong in your letter isn’t enough. FEMA not only needs to know why their decision was wrong, but needs something to help backup your argument. Thus, not only do you need to explain your reasoning; but, your letter needs evidence to help prove your point. Evidence can be anything from rent receipts to help verify occupancy of the damaged property to contractor estimates or statements to help prove that the damage was disaster-caused.
#4: If You’re Not Writing the Appeal, There’s Some More Paperwork:
After a disaster you might not have the time, resources, or patience to write an appeal letter yourself. If you have someone else help you write the appeal letter for you, make sure that you follow the rules for doing so. The most important rule is to make sure you have something authorizing the person to talk with FEMA and sign the letter for you. There tend to be some specific things they want to see in the letter authorizing the other person to sign the application for you. Be sure to ask a representative from the National Processing Service Center or from the local Disaster Recovery Center for the exact language and details needed before getting too far. Even if you have a lawyer write the appeal letter for you, they’ll need to get the same document letting them talk with FEMA and sign your letter.
#5: Don’t Forget to Sign on the Dotted Line:
The first thing FEMA will probably look for in your appeal letter is that you signed it. You don’t necessarily have to sign it yourself, just as long as someone you authorized (using #4 above) has signed it for you. If you don’t sign it FEMA will probably just kick it back without even looking at it, wasting precious time.
#6: Ball is in FEMA’s Court:
After a proper appeal letter is received, FEMA will do one of three things: (1) call you or send a letter asking for more information to help them make a decision (usually with a 30-day deadline for you); (2) contact a third-party to verify information you submitted with your letter (just like in #3 above); or (3) schedule an appeal inspection of the property. FEMA has 90-days to make a decision on your appeal in writing.
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