This is a step by step guide for applying for FEMA Disaster Assistance from the 2016 Baton Rouge flood victim’s perspective. I wrote an article earlier today (8/15/16) discussing how people could lend their support,volunteer, or donate to the disaster relief for Louisiana flood victims. As the day has gone on, I have received so many emails and messages asking if I knew how the process works for actual flood victims. In other words, how do they apply for FEMA Disaster Assistance.
Immediately I remembered those long hot days in California Emergency Shelters as a volunteer. As I was sitting there thinking about it. I tried to put myself in their shoes, the flood victims. Your entire world just got turned upside down. You no longer have a home. You are living among strangers, separated from friends and family. You are exhausted, and yet somehow, you have to find the strength to try to pull the tattered strings of your life back together. Where do you even begin?
I began searching, but there was so much information that my head was spinning, and I was doing the research from the comfort of my home, not on my phone at a shelter. I had to find answers for them. A sheer stroke of luck occurred. A friend of mine referred me to a local gentlemen, Josh Gill of Plexos Group in Baton Rouge. He is the Senior Director of Response and Recovery Programs for Plexos, and as such has many years of valuable experience in dealing with FEMA. I sent him a Facebook message and asked if I could interview him. He kindly obliged, and I had the opportunity to speak with him and get a very clear picture of how this works for everyone.
What follows is a summary of the conversation between Josh and I;
Short List For Any Flood Victims;
The POTUS (President of The United States) has declared this flooding and severe weather a MAJOR disaster and the Stafford Act (the means by which FEMA receives money to deploy to states for assistance) will come into play. Here are a few pointers to help navigate you through the Individual Assistance (IA) world.
1. Gather all your important documents.
Insurance Agents Name/Phone Number
2. Document, document, document
Any costs you have expended to fight the flood, including lodging, fuel, equipment, and other purchases need to be documented. This will include anything from expenses incurred before the flood to save your home to expenses that you may be incurring now for shelter, food, etc. Though it is never certain that FEMA will reimburse all of your expenses, if you are unsure, save the receipt anyway.
3. Contact your homeowners insurance carrier immediately. Tell them what happened. Do this early.
4.Call or visit FEMA’s website and register yourself for their Individual Assistance. This is how you receive individual benefits under FEMA’s Disaster Assistance. Do this early. Trust me.
There are many ways to register; by phone at 800-621-3362, online, or in person (coming very shortly). Multilingual operators are available. Survivors who are deaf, hard of hearing or have a speech disability and use a TTY may call 800-462-7585. Those who use 711 or Video Relay Service may call 800-621-3362.
Very soon FEMA will begin setting up Disaster Recovery Centers, aka DRC’s for applicants to be able to sit down with a FEMA agent directly and submit your claim. Check FEMA’s DRC Locator website for locations in the coming days. It is worth repeating that you should register for an Individual Assistance Registration Number as soon as you can, today if possible. When you meet with the FEMA agent at the DRC, you will submit your pictures, videos, receipts, statements about damage, etc. You should receive an approval or denial from FEMA within 2-10 days.
5. Follow the guidelines and the path forward. If FEMA rejects you the first time, try to hold yourself together, because that is not the end of the line. FEMA is considered the ‘lender of last resort’, so it would not be uncommon for you to have to apply more than one time before being approved.
6. When Approved: While your home is being repaired, you may have to rent a home or an apartment. Get invoices. You may qualify for rental assistance as part of your Individual Assistance from FEMA, so don’t forget to ask for it. Now that you have your assistance through insurance, SBA or FEMA pick a contractor. Pick a reputable contractor! Pick a trusted contractor! Verify a contractor’s license or registration number by contacting the Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors at 1-800-256-1392 or www.lslbc.louisiana.gov.
Contractors’ licenses are required for all commercial projects costing more than $50,000, all residential new construction of single family homes costing more than $75,000, and all hazardous materials or mold remediation work. Basically, use the same level of business and common sense that you would if you were engaged in any other transaction. Disasters bring out the snakes and the scam artists. Click here to read FEMA’s Guide To Picking A Contractor.
Hire Only Louisiana State Licensed Contractors
Do not pay up front
Do not sign over checks
7. When Rejected: If you get rejected for FEMA Disaster Assistance, just move right on to step 2. Apply for an SBA (Small Business Administration) Disaster Loan. Yes, I know that it may seem that the SBA should not have anything to do with this, but they do. You have to do this. It’s the process. Click here to apply for an SBA Disaster Loan. SBA will either approve you or deny you. If they approve you, you have the option for a low interest loan. If they deny you, go back to FEMA or call them and apply for FEMA Disaster Assistance again.
This is the process and I can not stress to you the importance of following up. FEMA will either approve or deny. Go face to face. Show them the pictures. Tell them the “dark and gloomy” story. Do not give up! It’s a process. Stay the course. Don’t take it personally. Be the squeaky wheel, thorn in their side, etc. In other words, get the money that you need to put your life back together.
8. Pray, Pray, Pray
Have faith in the Lord
9. Rest and eat healthy
This is a marathon, not a sprint
Keep mental focus
10. Ease the minds of your children. This is a frightening time and they need to be comforted. Disasters are tough.”
This guy is incredible. Not only did he allow me to interview him, but he has also agreed to allow me to post his name and contact number for victims who need further advice. He said, “I am available for anyone that needs to talk or needs advice.” He is a prime example of why people say ‘Southern Hospitality’.
If after reading this article, you have other questions, please call Josh Gill directly at 985.507.2263 (cell) or send him a private message on his Facebook page. He does not deal with Individual Assistance claims, so he is not trying to sell you anything. He only deals with commercial/public claims. He just really wants to help out and be a valuable local resource.
Thank you Josh for your time, dedication, and investment to our local residents. You are a reminder that they did not lose everything, because there is still kindness, there are still people who will help, and you may be light at the end of their very dark tunnel.