Disaster Assistance, how to begin.
Recovering after a declared disaster takes time and knowledge of state and federal policies and procedure.

Truck And Tools Disaster Assistance.

For specific articles, federal and state agencies, how to guides, oversight, overreach and matters under review be sure to select from the Disaster Recovery menu above then select the section of interest. 

Recommendations for Post Disaster Relief to reduce disaster debt burden on your household.

  1. Return to your property as soon as it's safe.
  2. Do not move debris or enter structures until you have fully documented the damage from an external view.
    Call your insurance adjuster and ask when you can start clearing out your home from inside. Your adjuster may ask that you document everything by taking pictures as you enter the home. Some adjusters will ask that you wait for their arrival.
    Take photographs using a camera that will embed a date and time stamp on each image. If your camera does not provide datetime stamp you can use software to extract the time and date meta data from the picture later if needed. 
  3. How to photograph and document your property after the disaster. 
    1. Start at the street sign near your property that shows your properties street name. If you are not able to capture your home in the picture start moving closer to your home from the street sign or nearest crossroads until you can get a picture of your home.
    2. Your next picture will be your mailbox from the street with your home in the background. Or your 911 street address or numbers on the curb clearly showing your home and the address in one picture. 
    3. Walk completely around your home staying far enough away to capture full side views of your damaged home.
    4. First 360 degree pass is made up of 6 pictures facing toward your home.
      1. Mailbox
      2. Street sign
      3. Front view
      4. Right side view
      5. Rear view
      6. Left side view
    5. Second 360 degree pass around your home is made up of more images closer to the home so details of the home can be clearly seen. I recommend between 10 and 20 feet away from home and stager your pictures about 10 to 15 feet overlapping the previous images so not to miss any details. 
      1. One (1) picture every 10 to 15 feet around the home or property.
      2. Between 10 to 20 feet from the structure.
      3. Make good high definition pictures with your date time stamp included. See your phones watermark settings for your camera.
      4. DO NOT EDIT your pictures smaller. If you edit your location information and your meta time stamps may be removed.
  4. When entering your structure check to make sure it is safe. Have a person walk with you holding a light so you can see what you are taking pictures of. Be aware of your surroundings when entering your home or structure after it was damaged by a storm.
  5. Take pictures ever few feet making sure you show as much detail as possible and document all of your personal property before you touch it or move it out of the structure. Repeat taking pictures ever few feet until you have documented your whole structure.

Clearing out personal items and damaged items.

  1. Document every item you drag to the curb of your street for debris pickup. With or without insurance you should document items so if you are given a grant to replace these items you can prove you spent your grant money correctly. For those that have insurance you should know that you must document all items if you are covered for replacement at full cost. If you are covered for replacement value you have to go much more detailed to recover your full insurable amount. 
  2. If coverage is replacement value you must do the following and present the data to your insurance adjuster. 
    1. Take a picture of the item. 
    2. Take a picture of the Serial Number, Model Number, Name, Part Number or any other identifiable amount. 
    3. Do a quick search on eBay or the internet to determine it's market value. (used items)
    4. If you are not able to find used for sale items that match search for the retail value of the items and use your insurance market value adjustment percentages. Example: New price $100, age deprecation 80% market value $20 less condition before disaster. Get with your adjuster to better understand your insurance companies requirements and policy. 

Federal Agencies you must apply with if you are looking for any type of financial assistance in the form of loans or grants.

  1. File a claim with your insurance companies. Home, auto, airplane, boat, etc.
  2. Register with FEMA
  3. Complete the SBA Disaster Loan Application 
    NOTE: Do not accept the loan offer until you read your options I provided you. You have time, don't be fooled into signing your Loan Agreement too early. 
  4. File for housing assistance with FEMA and your State.
  5. File for volunteer assistance. Accept help from any and all groups that offer help without you having to pay for the help. Ask friends and family that have phone and internet to sign you up with not for profit and faith-based originations.  
  6. Find out where you can collect food, hot meals, ice, water, fuel and any personal items you need to be able to work at your property.
  7. DO NOT HIRE HELP to repair your home until you understand where the money is going to come from and you have your local municipality permitting office advising what they require from you so they can report the repairs to include mitigation repairs to FEMA.
    1. If your home is inspected by FEMA inspectors and was determined to be damaged more than 50% of it's market value based on their determination you will need to contact your building permit office for your process. In most cases, you'll be offered options of 
      1. Repair in place if elevation meets building code and FEMA elevation requirements. Keep in mind grants often require base flood elevation plus 2 feet. New FEMA regulations will make base flood elevation + 3 feet your goal from 2022 moving forward until FEMA and the National Flood Insurance Program makes additional changes that impact your household financially. 
  8. Create your temporary housing assistance plan now, within 72 hours of being displaced. Your FEMA Grants may assist you in making repairs to your home but look for Rental assistance then Mortgage assistance if you are forced into renting while still paying on your mortgage. DO NOT defer your mortgage payments if you can secure mortgage assistance or pay normally. All assistance is designed to pay forward so no reimbursements will be made except via FEMA temporary shelter programs. 
  9. Operation Blue Roof managed by the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and funded by FEMA after your state requests the program from FEMA. Program outsources services with local and out of state roofing companies.

At this stage you have cleared out your personal belongings, cleaned out as much as you can and mucked out everything that the disaster carried into your damaged home. Now it's time to start planning and staging your repairs. 

Determine your financial status so you can find federal services to reduce your disaster recovery debt.

I have personally reviewed hundreds of disaster recovery financial spreadsheets and can say most all people lose 33% of their net wealth after each major or severe disaster. After each disaster it takes more resources to rebuild to pre-disaster values or conditions. With most people not having enough private insurance to replace their homes many need to take personal loans or federally subsidized loans such as the SBA disaster loans. Many loans are counted as disaster assistance which will penalize you if you qualify for disaster recovery grants. Rule of thumb is to always determine if you would qualify for grants before you look to qualify or accept loans. And when you are forced to take a loan, it's important to understand that your best loans are private banking loans not secured by federal tax dollars such as an SBA loan. Federal loans are secured by the tax payers of our nation and the Stafford Act has specific policy rules that declare loans and grants paid for or secured by tax payers that are used for the same purpose are a duplication of services and count as a duplication of benefits. This is clear once you accept your SBA loan, any grants you may have been awarded are not offered because it would be a duplication of federal tax dollars servicing the same purpose which would be to fund your disaster recovery construction of your primary residence.  

Order of financial processed to take: 

  1. Collect your total households previous years tax returns. 
  2. Determine your total household income which includes all persons working that are at least 15 years of age. 
  3. Estimate your Area Medium Income (AMI) using HUD formulas. 
  4. Review those providing income responsible for household overhead and label all other income as short term or limited in support of household liabilities. (Remove the 15-17 year old working a summer job vs. drawing an allowance from household incomes.)
  5. Create an online spreadsheet using any free or paid services you might have. You will find tracking what you spend and what you need to spend is much easier if you have an online cloud spreadsheet going that you can share.
  6. Determine your monthly continuous discretionary income taking anything over 15% of your total income as your increased disaster debt cap or threshold. 
  7. Collect all household housing costs and overhead averaging 12 months as your hardship level when compared to your adjusted gross income compared to your yearly housing expenses. If more than 30% of your gross income is used for housing and your total AMI is below 120% you may have a hardship for housing. 

Collect your insurance policies.

  1. File claims on all insured real property and personal property to include vehicles. 
  2. Any insurance claims that you are awarded a dollar amount need to be reviewed closely by a insurance litigation lawyer for maximum payout. 
  3. Allow insurance litigation lawyers to take your case on all insurable property. Contingency disaster insurance lawyer's should be the only type of lawyer you work with to litigate directly with your insurance company. If your lawyer wins your legal fees which can be 30% of your total claim will not count as a duplication of benefits which will allow you to apply for reimbursement of legal feeds under the HUD CDBG-DR Grant program your state will manage. Key point is that the 30% of insurance claim used to pay your lawyer will not count against you for future federal assistance for your declared disaster.

Your State Governor will announce HUD CDBG-DR Grant allocations

It will be announced as if the state did some fantastic hoop jumping to get funds and will always say it's for the "Resilient People in the Great State of [fill in the blank]."

Fact is, you the citizenry of the state and you the homeowners of the state will be used to increase allocations but will receive less than any of the other combined elements within the allocations funding. 

HUD will start with that 95% of the funds will go to low-income, moderate-income households in the most impacted areas. Your state will ask for a waiver lowering this percentage to 75% or less. Then the state will identify a less than needed for the most impacted distressed areas. They will word it as if not enough people signed up or were eligible. Then your state will show demographic reports that the disaster impacted more households with higher incomes. After it's all done and said the homeowners assistance would be below 20% of the total allocations that were offered to the homeowners in the original allocations. 

In Louisiana the 2020-2021 and 2022 disasters have capped the grant funding for homeowners before the first homeowner was determined eligible for the program. $300,000,000 to assist homeowners for 3 hurricane recoveries spanning 3 years. 

The 2016 Floods at least offered just over $650,000,000 assisting an estimated 17,000 households out of the declared 120,000 to which 49,000 were found eligible but only 17,000 awarded. It was discussed within the governors office 2 years into the program to limit total assistance to homeowners to less than 15,000. The goal was to keep the grant spending on homeowners under $550 million. So for Hurricane Delta, Laura and Ida the state is on track to reduce that 15,000 to roughly 8,000 homeowners before they even finish inspecting the total damage population. The state of Louisiana has a magic 8-ball that they shake to see just how many they will accept into the program then allocate the remaining federal tax dollars to newly created programs.

This is about your 1 year point of your disaster recovery. Most are still in temporary housing, up to 22 months will be paid for in either mortgage assistance or housing assistance. 

Between the first and second year of your disaster recovery you'll start to see a pattern of your state and municipality offering excuses regarding federal assistance reaching homeowners. This is because for the last year your state and municipalities have been focused on their Public Assistance Cost Share programs. They have been asking for federal dollars to pay the 25% cost share. At this point, they (your government) has completely forgotten about it's citizenry still recovering from the same disaster. 

At this point you will most likely seek out social media groups to ask others and share information. You all will be learning from the same learning pool. Some of your groups will have great advocates offering free information to the self help homeowners. Other groups are actually managed by for profit not for profit groups. Each disaster recovery program starts from an established playbook but they amend that playbook often with focus on reducing funds available to homeowners from the first day. 

Your states goal is to pass the disaster debt burden onto the homeowners shoulders. This applies to all income groups. You'll notice the worse cases are in the most impacted and destressed areas in which we find more low income households than average income households. In short, more live in poverty in disaster prone areas not because they like disaster recovery, it's because the costs for property and homes is generally less than areas less known for repetitive financial losses due to repeat disasters.  


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