Homeowners should file an appeal with FEMA if no in-home damage inspection was completed by FEMA inspectors.
FEMA is not back to performing in-home inspections of disaster homes. If your FEMA damage determination did not include an inside your home inspection you should schedule a new inspection now in 2022.

By Murray Wennerlund published 11-15-2022 updated 11-15-2022

If you feel your inspection did not cover all the damage you found that was caused by the declared disaster and any of the following

  • The FEMA inspector did not enter your home.
  • The FEMA inspector only inspected the exterior home.
  • FEMA called me and asked me what was damaged and never scheduled an on-site visit.
  • FEMA scheduled a video call with me and I showed the damage of the outside of the home only.
  • FEMA scheduled a video call with me and I showed the outside and inside of my home but I missed things and discovered additional issues.

If you match any of the above conditions then you should request a new or second inspection to completely document the damages to your home. 

If you completed repairs have a receipt available of what you paid and an estimate detailing what was found damaged. FEMA will not reimburse you from a receipt but will take the date of the receipt as proof of payment and proof that the work was completed. 

What FEMA will not do is look to see if you are the payee, if the money came from your bank account or that your credit card was paid by you if you used your credit card. Your state agencies may ask that you show proof that the check or credit card you used actually reflected the amount on your invoice. This is very important for additional disaster assistance, you must provide the following for grant reimbursements.

  • Invoice
  • Payment method
  • If by Check, copy of front and back of check.
  • If by credit card, you must show your credit card statement and how you paid your credit card bill to show it was actually your bank account that paid for your credit card.

If you paid by Cash your state agency may not accept any type of receipt from you. But, you can create a short statement of fact and with the person who completed the repairs you both could sign it and have it presented as proof of payment. 

FEMA Publication: What You Need to Know: Returning to In-Home Housing Inspections, "As of June 1, 2022, FEMA reinstated verification of disaster-caused losses through in-person home inspections."

If you had your disaster assistance claim filed with FEMA between 2-15-2020 and 5-31-2022 you might not have had an in-home inspection or your in-home inspection may have been limited in time and detail. You should appeal the determination no matter how many months have past and even if FEMA says you only have 90 days to appeal. You were not given information that your damage assessment would be used against you for other federal funding such as HUD CDBG-DR grants. 

Now it's time to prepare for your appeal. 

  1. You must request from FEMA a copy of your damage assessment or confirmation letter that you were not inspected. 

A confirmation would be simply a letter showing you were approved for Individual Assistance (IA) or Individuals and Households Program (IHP) that has no record of you requesting an inspection or FEMA offering any inspection that you declined. If you happened to decline an inspection you can change your request and schedule an inspection. 

You will be following FEMA information on "How Do I Appeal the Final Decision?"

You'll find most of the appeals information is focused on eligibility since that typically is the first appeal you would file with FEMA. In your case you're filing an appeal for damage assessment. You're most likely not going to be awarded any FEMA grant funds and you should state that you are not actually interested in FEMA grant funding in your appeal. You simply want your appeal to reflect the actual structural damage that was not documented between 2020 and 2022. When you get your estimates and quotes for repairs documented you should be focused on an appeal that will help you get into the HUD CDBG-DR Grant program which has much higher levels of financial assistance in the form of federal grants that do not have to be repaid. 

HUD CDBG-DR has eligibility requirements that depend on FEMA inspections to allow you to enter the HUD long term recovery programs offered by your state housing commission. (In Louisiana it's the Office of Community Development Disaster Recovery Unit OCD-DRU)

HUD CDBG-DR program typically focuses on homeowners that are under 80% AMI and have major to severe damage reported by FEMA. 

Homeowner that's retired over 65 years of age and does not have insurance coverage would be eligible for repair grants only if FEMA determined the homeowner sustained major to severe damage. 

What does major to severe damage look like in dollars? 
Here's HUD's list of what is Major to Severe damage related to dollars.

  • Major-Low: $8,000 to $14,999 of FEMA inspected real property damage and/or more than one foot of flooding on the first floor.
  • Major-High: $15,000 to $28,800 of FEMA inspected real property damage and/or four to six feet of flooding on the first floor.
  • Severe: Greater than $28,800 of FEMA inspected real property damage or determined destroyed and/or six or more feet of flooding on the first floor. 

If you match the damage of Major/Severe then you will be placed into a phase to which funding will be awarded. Funds do run out but it's typically caused by the state not calculating or unwilling to calculate what it would cost to repair all homes to pre-disaster status. 

Your next phase placement is based on several factors listed below. 

  1. Low-to-moderate income families equal to or below 50% area median income (AMI)
  2. Low-to-moderate income families equal to or greater than 50% AMI but less than or equal to 80% AMI, and elderly or persons with disabilities living in the home
  3. Low-to-moderate income families equal to or greater than 50% AMI but less than or equal to 80% AMI
  4. Reside within one of the most impacted or distressed parishes or zip codes, no priority due to income, and repairs have not been completed
  5. All other parishes, no priority due to income, and repairs have not been completed
  6. Reimbursement for homeowners whose income is greater than 80% AMI who completed the rebuilding process at the time they submitted their survey or completed their application

With this information and with more than 90 days out from your FEMA declared disaster and disaster assistance filing your appeal needs to address damages first then you can focus on what phase you will be allowed into with the HUD program. The key to not carrying major disaster debt from one storm to the next is to have more than enough insurance and/or enough knowledge to apply for grants before you apply for loans like they offer at the time you register with FEMA. (SBA Loans should not be accepted if your income is below 80% AMI or you have very little discretionary funds available to your household each month.)

To get you into the HUD Grant program for Disaster Recovery you will at least have to have sustained Major-low damage. This is how HUD explains it but FEMA will have additional information that you need to follow. 

HUD damage level per FEMA inspection: Major-Low: $8,000 to $14,999 of FEMA inspected real property damage and/or more than one foot of flooding on the first floor.

FEMA Degree of Damage: Major

Definition: The residence has sustained significant structural damage and requires extensive repairs.

Flood Damage:

  • Water level above 18 inches
  • Waterline above 18 inches or the electrical outlets in an essential living space.
  • Waterline on the first floor (regardless of depth) of a residence when basement is completely full.
  • When waterline exceeds 3 inches but is below 18 inches, damage may be major or minor depending on the following factors: duration of the flood, contaminants in the water, if waterline reached outlets, and number of essential living spaces flooded.

Damage Other Than Flood (e.g., Wind-Driven Rain and Earthquake)

  • Failure or partial failure to structural elements of the roof over essential living spaces to include rafters, ceiling joists, ridge boards, etc.
  • Failure or partial failure to structural elements of the walls, to include framing, etc.
  • Failure or partial failure to foundation, to include crumbling, bulging, collapsing, horizontal cracks of more than 2 inches, and shifting of the residence on the foundation of more than 6 inches.

Resource: FEMA Preliminary Damage Assessment Guide August 2021

If you receive a letter stating that you are ineligible for assistance or that your application is incomplete, you can still complete the application or appeal the decision within 60 days of receiving a decision letter. The letter would either be mailed to you or placed into your Disaster Assistance Center account, if you have set up an account.

Part 2 of this process will cover documenting the damages even if you have repaired the damage. Then you will need to document payments made and justify any cash disbursements that do not follow proper accounting practices. 

This is not official advice or legal advice, this is what has been observed to work for homeowners that were overlooked or unaware of what each federal agency should have provided in the first 90 days post disaster. 

Part 2 will be posted this week 11-15-2022. While you wait, start taking pictures and find all your receipts, invoices, estimates that are for repairs of your primary residence and primary structure only.