Floridians Can Appeal Denial Letters

January 16, 2006

Floridians who received denial letters declaring them ineligible for Hurricane Wilma disaster assistance can follow a process to appeal decisions, according to officials from the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Florida’s State Emergency Response Team (SERT).

Common reasons for denial include adequate insurance coverage; damage to a secondary home, not a primary residence; duplicate applications made from the same address; and inability to prove occupancy or ownership.

Sometimes a denial simply means that more information is needed before the analysis can be completed. Applicants who are denied housing and other needs assistance under FEMA’s Individuals and Households Program (IHP) have 60 days from the date of their determination letter to appeal the decision. All appeals must be submitted in writing.

In their appeal letters, applicants should explain in writing why they think the decision about the amount or type of assistance they received is not correct. They should provide specific examples, such as areas – electrical, plumbing, floors, walls, ceilings, etc. – they feel were not addressed in the inspection process. The applicant, or someone who represents them or their household, should sign the letter. If the person writing the letter is not a member of the household, there must be a signed statement saying that the writer may act on the applicant’s behalf.

Appeal letters should include the applicant’s FEMA registration number and the disaster number (shown at the top of the decision letter – Wilma’s disaster number is 1609). It is important to have appeal letters postmarked within 60 days of the date on the decision letter. It is also important to date the appeal letter, which should be mailed to the following address:

FEMA – Individuals & Households Program
National Processing Service Center
P.O. Box 10055
Hyattsville, Md. 20782-7055

Letters can also be faxed to 800-827-8112 (Attention: FEMA – Individuals & Households Program).

To register for or ask questions about FEMA assistance, residents should call FEMA at 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or TTY 1-800-462-7585 for the speech- and hearing- impaired. The deadline to apply for disaster assistance is Thursday, Jan. 19, 2006.

Appealing insurance-related denials:

While the law forbids federal payment for losses covered by insurance, financial aid may be provided for losses not covered, and information in the settlement letter from the insurance company can help obtain this aid from FEMA, if the individual is eligible.

If an applicant is still waiting for an insurance settlement – but has received a letter from FEMA stating that a claim for federal assistance has been denied because of insurance coverage – he or she should contact FEMA and request a “delay of settlement” letter. A completed copy of the letter should be mailed back to FEMA at the above address so the agency is aware that the claims process is still ongoing.

If an applicant does receive an insurance settlement – and also receives a letter from FEMA stating that a claim for federal assistance has been denied because of insurance coverage but feels the insurance settlement was not sufficient – the applicant can re-contact FEMA and let them know of the situation. Insurance cases can be appealed to FEMA up to 12 months from an applicant’s registration date.

It is important to register with FEMA now. Occasionally, the insurance settlement process may take several months before it is final, perhaps until after the registration period has ended. To be considered for federal assistance, residents must have applied before the Jan. 19 deadline, even if they are not finished with the insurance claims process.

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