FEMA Answers

From FEMA Answers

Answers about FEMA programs have come intermittently from FEMA press releases, interviews, and from court decisions. This page is designed to collect some details of those answers.

On October 17, FEMA provided long awaited answers to advocates and officials from across the country who submitted questions to NLIHC regarding the FEMA transitional housing program. Following an October 7 conference call, the answers were compiled by FEMA Individual Assistance Program staff and returned to NLIHC, who posted the answers to their web site. During the October 7 call, raw notes were taken, and then slightly corrected here. The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty has also published notes on the call.

Other answers have been made available on FEMA's web site. A page with Q&A on Transitional Housing assistance was added on October 5. A general Q&A on Common Questions was added on October 6. FEMA also has a general FAQ (frequently asked questions) page, which was updated December 13, 2005. However many key questions remain unanswered. The Times Picayune, a New Orleans newspaper has begun a series called "Ask FEMA". FEMA's responses are collected here.

The October 7 conference call with FEMA posed a series of at least 34 questions. These have been narrowed to 10 categories, organized below. Each of the categories may be expanded to reflect experience in the field, or with further discussion. Please contribute by editing below. Of course, this web site does not speak for FEMA.

Contents

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Application Problems

Many evacuees are having problems with recertification.

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Denial of Assistance and Appeals

As of December 2005, the deadline to apply for FEMA assistance has been extended again to March 11, 2006.

Earlier deadlines were January 11, 2006 for all disaster survivors. On October 22, the deadline to apply for FEMA assistance was extended by 60 days for Mississipi residents. See www.extendthedeadline.org. At that time, the revised deadlines were:

  • Katrina victims in Louisiana and Mississipi: January 11, 2006
  • Katrina victims in Florida: October 28, 2005
  • Katrina victims in Alabama: October 29, 2005
  • Rita vicitms in Louisiana: January 11, 2006
  • All other Rita victims: November 23, 2005.[1]
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Shared Housing and Household Composition

FEMA has denied thousands of applicants based on the shared housing rule, however, FEMA issued an official memo September 19, stating that it is "official notification" that temporary housing assistance is available for more than one residence may be provided to a household whose members are displaced and living in different geographical locations from one another as a result of Hurrican Katrina."

On October 7, FEMA stated that it is making exceptions to its regular "shared housing rule." This rule normally provides that housing assistance is available only to the first member of a shared household who successfully applies for housing assistance, even though other household members living together before the disaster need housing but were separated as a result of the disaster. However, the circumstances where this rule is waived are not clear, and appear to be on a case-by-case basis.

In a November 26 news release, FEMA admits that some families have not received aid, although they were eligible for the assistance, because of the so called "shared housing" rule. It is unclear how FEMA will implement this "reversal" in policy, or what policy remains in effect.

If a hurricane survivor was denied FEMA benefits based on the shared housing rule, that decision should appealed. Forms to make this application to FEMA are available Recertification & Appeal.

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Documentation and Recertification

According to the written opinion of U.S. District Court Judge Duval, issued on December 12, 2005, p. 15-16:

  • After discussions with the parties it is the Court’s understanding that evacuees need not provide rental receipts or re-pay the initial $2358 rental assistance payment in order to receive additional rental assistance if “they are otherwise eligible and certify, in writing (via the attached form), that one or both of the following situations apply:”
  1. They received the initial rental assistance prior to receiving official written notification through the mail explaining the intended use of the rental assistance;
  2. They used all or a substantial part of the rental assistance on serious and essential needs (e.g. food, clothing), because they lacked sufficient additional funding to address those needs

FEMA issed a press release on November 18 regarding inspections and reimbursements. The brief announcement addresses pictures taken on home inspections, reimbursement for generators, and FEMA follow up for additional assistance for the 8 heavily damaged counties.

FEMA reports on the October 7 call that both the $2,000 and $2,358 payments are based an initial eligibility determination made in the registration interview that typically lasts about 20 minutes. To get assistance beyond these first payments, applicants must go through recertification with FEMA, through a longer interview and an on-site inspection of the applicant's home. Typically, recertification for FEMA is conducted with an applicant at the place of residence in the disaster area, where FEMA verifies the family composition, ownership or rental documentation, whether private insurance is available, and other issues. However, since Katrina has scattered families across the nation, FEMA is willing to conduct an exterior inspection of the home without the applicant present, and contact the survivor by phone. FEMA does not offer assistance to travel to the home solely for the purpose of this inspection. Inspection without the applicant present may lead the FEMA inspector to miss substantial damage known better to the applicant. FEMA will make a determination whether the applicant has continuing needs eligible for up to $26,200 in assistance.

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Pre-disaster Homeless Assistance

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Hotel/Motel Program

FEMA's announcement of the closure of the hotel/motel program, effective December 1st was widely reported in the press. However, official information from FEMA is harder to obtain. On November 15, FEMA issued a press release entitled "FEMA Helping Families into Long-Term Housing," which provides some details for the termination of the program. The annoucement further states that:

  • By no later than March 1, 2006, six months after Hurricane Katrina, apartment leases initially co-signed by state or local authorities must be assumed by the occupant, if the occupant elects to remain in the apartment. After March 1, 2006, FEMA emergency assistance reimbursements to state or local governments in these cases will end. Fees associated with termination of leases sponsored by any such state or local may be reimbursed by FEMA.

On November 22, FEMA announced a two-week extension of the deadline for termination of FEMA’s hotel program for evacuees from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Upon application by the Governor, FEMA will further extend the termination deadline for the 10 states with the highest concentration of evacuees through Jan. 7, 2006.

  • Brief Analysis. Problems remain for new constraints on the ability of states and localities to enter into leases on behalf of evacuees, and lack of clarity on whether families will continue to receive FEMA rental assistance after the first 3 months. There is no extension on hotel payments beyond Jan. 7 for anyone, including in MS and LA. Nor did FEMA announce any change in the March 1 termination date for reimbursements to cities and states for rental payments for apartments they lease on behalf of displaced families.

Scope of Program. In the hardest-hit areas of southern Louisiana and Mississippi alone, hundreds of thousands of homes were damaged or destroyed, and up to 600,000 families will need transitional housing, according to FEMA estimates.[1] As of October 6, about 60,000 people still were living in mass shelters, while about 435,000 people remained in hotels or motels.

  • From testimony of Robert David Paulison, Acting Director, FEMA, before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, October 6, 2005 [2]
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SBA Applications

FEMA confirmed on the Oct 7 conference call that there are set income limits below which applicants need not complete an SBA application. FEMA has declined to release the income levels required to avoid the SBA application on the grounds that it would invite fraud.

"On September 27, I talked to a very knowledgeable person in the disaster assistance office at SBA who said that people who register with FEMA and fill out the pre-disaster income line and whose income is low enough (based on federal poverty levels and family size) do not have to fill out an SBA application. She would not tell me exactly what the levels are b/c they rely on the applicant to tell the truth about what their pre-disaster income was when they register with FEMA, and if people find out the exact amount that would keep them from having to apply for the SBA loan, they may commit fraud and give a lower amount. She said one of the big problems is that when people register on line, the pre-disaster income line is not a required field and if people don't fill that out, the SBA application requirement is not automatically waived.

"People need to know that if victims are applying on line, they must fill in the income line, even though the application can be completed without it. That is the only way low-income individuals will be able to avoid being required to fill out the SBA loan application." Rebecca K. Troth, Rtroth@NLCHP.org

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Rental Assistance / Rental Housing

See Main Article FEMA Apartments

The National Multi Housing Council has created a document providing an overview of FEMA/HUD housing assistance programs for the Gulf Coast hurricane victims. It includes updated information on new deadlines and changes in prior programs. (02/27/06)

The IRS has waived many of the requirements for Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) properties. An official notice outlining the changes for Hurricane Katrina victims is posted here. A second notice extending those waivers to Hurricane Rita victims is posted here. The changes make it easier for LIHTC property owners to house evacuees without losing their tax credits.


FEMA-FUNDED VOUCHER PROGRAMS (Section 403 Assistance)

With FEMA's approval, many cities around the country created six- and 12-month voucher programs to house the hurricane evacuees. On November 15, however, FEMA reversed position and announced that it would stop reimbursing cities for voucher lease payments as of March 1, 2006.

On February 24, FEMA signed an agreement in principle with Houston Mayor Bill White to continue funding for that city's 12-month voucher leases. The City and FEMA will use the agreement in principle as the basis of a more detailed contract.

Apartment owners renting to evacuees with a Houston voucher should note, however, that the agreement says FEMA will not cover utilities that are billed separately from the rent after March 31, 2006. This contradicts the Houston voucher leases, which include utility payments for all units.

Importantly, the agreement does note that FEMA will work in good faith with the City of Houston to "implement the utility payment flexibility provisions of the Administration's Emergency Supplemental request of February 16, 2006, if approved by the U.S. Congress."

In a February 24 letter to Texas Governor Rick Perry, FEMA notified the state that the Agency will continue funding for that state's vouchers one more month--until March 31, 2006--to ensure a smooth transition of all eligible individuals to the Section 408 program by April 1, 2006.

The National Multi Housing Council's web site includes updated information on FEMA and HUD rental assistance programs, including more more information on FEMA's plans to end the city voucher programs and implement a direct payment plan to apartment owners for eligible voucher holders.

Two documents detailing the most frequently asked questions about the Section 403 program are posted here.


INDIVIDUAL RENTAL ASSISTANCE (SECTION 408 ASSISTANCE)

Many evacuees are eligible for rental assistance through FEMA’s Individual and Households Program (IHP). An overview of who is eligible for IHP assistance is posted here. A full FEMA guide to the IHP program is posted here. A FEMA fact sheet describing the program is posted here.


Initial Payments. Qualified owners and renters whose housing was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina were automatically sent a check for $2,358 in the fall of 2005 to cover three months of rent. The amount is based on the average national fair market rent of $786 a month. Payment were made automatically to households who have already applied to FEMA.

FEMA representatives say they understand that the average fair market rent will be less than is needed to cover rental costs in some areas where families have relocated. However, they say that by making the initial three-month rental assistance payment a single amount for all households FEMA is able substantially to reduce up-front paperwork and expedite these IHP grants.


Extended Housing Assistance. If participants remain eligible, housing assistance will be available for up to 18 months. After the first three months, the rental subsidy will be adjusted to reflect the FMRs for the location where the evacuee is living and for actual household size. Overpayments in this initial distribution must be repaid, credited against future rental assistance or deducted from any additional funds paid under the IHP. Additional information is posted here.

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Transportation Assistance

FEMA issued a press release describing transportation assistance on Oct 19. A FEMA press release issued December 12 states that "Hurricanes Katrina and Rita evacuees and their dependents living in Alabama hotels and motels, who wish to relocate, have until Dec. 31 to take advantage of free one-way airplane, train or bus tickets."

FEMA is providing hurricane evacuees with one way transportation to family, friends or other housing arrangements through its Facilitated Relocation Program. In order to receive this assistance, you must call 1-866-586-5257. Prior to calling, please make sure that you have the appropriate information readily available and you meet the listed requirements. The requirements are:
1) The caller must be registered with FEMA and have their FEMA number at the time of the call.
2) The caller must be the person registered with FEMA or have power of attorney to represent that person (the power of attorney must already be on file). 3) The caller must have evacuated from Louisiana, Mississippi or Alabama.
4) They must have transportation to and from the airport, bus station, or train terminal.
5) The caller must have the address and phone number of the family/friend or temporary housing that they are being transported to at the time of the call.

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Reimbursing Non-Profits, State/Local Gov't