Attorney and international legal aid consultant Charles Greenfield joins producer/host Coralie Chun Matayoshi to discuss FEMA assistance to individuals impacted by the recent wildfires including housing (e.g. rent, lodging, home repair/replacement) and other expenses (e.g. personal property, medical/dental, transportation, cleaning/removal, child care, funeral), Small Business Administration (SBA) loans for businesses and individuals, and the process for applying for and appealing FEMA and SBA decisions.
A few weeks ago, our island home suffered the worst U.S. wildfire in a century, devastating the town of Lahaina and destroying homes and lives. As the former CEO of the Hawaii Red Cross, I know that beyond food, clothing, and shelter, disaster victims need help accessing public benefits and sorting out their legal rights. The Hawaii State Bar Association, its Young Lawyers Division, and the Maui County Bar Association immediately set up a free Disaster Legal Hotline to help wildfire victims, just as we did after Hurricane Iniki struck when I was Executive Director of the Bar Association. The Legal Aid Society of Hawaii helped to update the legal reference manual used by volunteer attorneys staffing the Hotline.
Q. When recovery from a federally declared disaster like the wildfires goes beyond the resources of state and county government, then FEMA steps in offer of assistance to rebuild damaged infrastructure and mitigate future disasters. Importantly, FEMA also provides monetary assistance to individuals impacted by a disaster. What can FEMA provide to help with housing?
FEMA’s Individuals and Households Program (IHP) provides financial assistance and direct services to eligible individuals and households affected by disaster who have uninsured or underinsured necessary expenses and serious needs. FEMA can provide assistance for rent, lodging, home repair, or home replacement, and even temporary housing if you or a member of your household is a U.S. citizen, a non-citizen national, or a qualified alien, the damaged or destroyed home is your primary home (not vacation home), you cannot live in the home (e.g. you can’t get to it, requires major repairs), you don’t have an adequate rent-free housing you can use (e.g. rental property that is not occupied), and assistance was accepted from all other sources for which the applicant is eligible, such as insurance proceeds or SBA loans. See https://www.fema.gov/assistance/individual/program,
- Rental Assistance: Financial assistance to rent temporary housing while disaster-caused repairs are made to your primary residence, or while transitioning to permanent housing.
- Lodging Expense Reimbursement: Financial assistance reimbursement for short-term lodging expenses.
- Home Repair: Financial assistance for homeowners to repair uninsured home damage caused by the disaster. The assistance is intended to repair the home to a safe, sanitary and functioning living condition.
- Home Replacement: Financial assistance for homeowners who must replace or rebuild their primary residence as a result of the disaster.
- Direct Housing: In limited circumstances where adequate temporary housing resources are not available within a reasonable commuting distance, FEMA may provide a temporary housing unit directly to homeowners and renters.
Q. Can FEMA offer assistance for other things like personal property, moving, storage, cleaning, childcare, transportation, medical, and funeral expenses?
Yes, FEMA has a program called Other Needs Assistance (ONA), which provides the following for disaster victims:
- Personal Property: Financial assistance to repair or replace common household items including, but not limited to, furnishings, appliances, essential tools and assistive equipment that supports daily living activities.
- Medical/Dental: Financial assistance to pay for medical or dental expenses or losses caused by the disaster. This includes, but is not limited to, hospital and ambulance services, medication, and the repair or replacement of medically necessary assistive devices or technology.
- Funeral: Financial assistance for expenses incurred due to a death or disinterment caused directly or indirectly by the disaster. Expenses include, but are not limited to, the cost of a casket or urn and funeral services.
- Child Care: Financial assistance for increased child care costs as a result of the disaster. Eligible expenses include child care costs for children aged 13 and under and/or children with a disability, as defined by Federal law, up to age 21, who need assistance with activities of daily living.
- Miscellaneous Expenses: Financial assistance to purchase specific items not owned prior to the disaster. They may include, but are not limited to, items such as a wet/dry vacuum, chainsaw, or a generator for a medically necessary device.
- Transportation: Financial assistance to repair or replace a vehicle damaged by the disaster.
- Moving and Storage Expenses: Financial assistance to temporarily move and store personal property from the damaged primary residence while repairs are made. Assistance may also be provided for moving essential household goods to a new primary residence.
- Clean and Removal: Financial assistance for services to remove contaminants and disinfect surface areas of the home affected by floodwater.
- Critical Needs: Financial assistance for applicants who have immediate or critical needs because they are displaced from their primary dwelling.
Q. What if you have insurance – do you still qualify for FEMA benefits?
If you have insurance, you must first file a claim. FEMA can then help you with necessary expenses or serious needs because of the disaster that are not covered by insurance or other sources, or your damages exceed what is covered by insurance. The following flow chart shows the sequence of delivery for individual assistance.
Q. What kind of information and documents do you need to apply for individual assistance from FEMA?
Applications will be taken by FEMA officials at Disaster Recovery Assistance Centers, on-line at www.disasterassistance.gov, and via telephone at (800) 621-3362/TTY (800) 462-7585. FEMA also has mobile app for individuals to download: FEMA’s mobile app
FEMA’s publication, Help After a Disaster: Applicant’s Guide to the Individuals & Households Program, provides a very good overview of the Federal Individual Assistance Programs and the application process. A copy of the manual can be found at: http://www.fema.gov/help-after-disaster.
Applicants will need to have the following documents and materials to apply:
- Proof of ID
- Social security number
- Current and pre-disaster address
- A telephone number where they can be contacted
- Insurance information
- Total household annual income
- A routing and account number from their bank (only necessary if direct deposit is preferred for disaster assistance funds).
- A description of losses that were caused by the disaster.
- Insurance determination letter (FEMA cannot provide assistance for losses that are covered by insurance)
- Proof of occupancy or ownership:
Proof of occupancy can include the following documents:
- Current driver’s license showing the address of the damaged dwelling;
- Utility bill sent to the address of the damaged dwelling in the applicant’s name (or the name of a co-applicant) (you may be able to obtain copies from the water, electric or gas company); or
- First-class government mail sent to you within the last three months at that address.
Proof of home ownership can include the following documents:
- Deed or official record, which may be the original deed or deed of trust to the property listing you as the legal owner;
- Tax receipts or a property tax bill showing the damaged dwelling and listing you as the responsible party for the assessments;
- Mortgage payment book or other mortgage documents (e.g., late payment notice or foreclosure notice) where your name is listed along with the damaged dwelling address; or
- Real property insurance for the damaged primary residence, with your name or the name of a person living with you at the residence listed as the insured (you may be able to obtain copies from your insurance agent).
- Ownership documentation can be researched by the inspector or applicant on public websites (such as a county property tax website) and/or with your mortgage lender or property insurance company.
Q. What happens next?
After an application is filed, an inspector will call to schedule an appointment within the next few days of the application, but usually no later than 10 days. The inspector will file the report but does not make any determination on eligibility. A letter will be sent within 10 days of the inspector’s visit regarding eligibility.
Q: What if FEMA denies a disaster victim’s claim, only partially approves the claim, or says that the claim is incomplete?
A disaster victim has a right to file an administrative appeal to a FEMA decision. Appeals must be filed within 60 days of receiving the FEMA notice. An appeal is a written request to FEMA to review your file again, and an opportunity to provide new or additional information not previously submitted that may affect the decision. You may appeal any decision by FEMA regarding your application for Individual Assistance, such as your initial eligibility decision, the amount or type of assistance provided to you, late applications, requests to return money, or a denial of Continued Temporary Housing Assistance.
A FEMA appeal can be filed online at DisasterAssistance.gov, in person at a disaster recovery center, by mail to FEMA – Individuals & Households Program National Processing Service Center, P.O. Box 10055, Hyattsville, MD 20782-8055, or by fax to (800) 827-8112, Attention: FEMA – Individuals & Households Program. The person who appealed will be notified in writing by FEMA of the response to the appeal, either by mail or via the DisasterAssistance.gov account that was created when the disaster victim applied with FEMA.
Legal assistance on FEMA appeals is available from the Legal Aid Society of Hawai’i, https://www.legalaidhawaii.org/, by calling 1-800-499-4302 on Maui and other neighbor islands, and 808-536-4302 on Oahu. The Hawai’i State Bar Association, https://hsba.org/, and the Maui County Bar Association, https://mauibar.org/, are also assisting disaster victims by providing hotlines and through other efforts.
Q. Individuals and businesses may also want to apply for low interest loans. Do you need to register with FEMA first before applying for these government loans?
Yes. To apply for any SBA loan,you must first register with FEMA at www.DisasterAssistance.gov. After registering with FEMA, businesses and homeowners who would like to apply for SBA loans should visit DisasterLoanAssistance.sba.gov.
Q. What kinds of disaster loans are available for businesses?
Small Business Administration (SBA) loans may be available to businesses to repair or replace disaster-damaged property, inventory, and supplies or meet their necessary financial obligations. Disaster loans help restore businesses to pre-disaster conditions, and, in some cases, protect from future disasters. They cannot be used to expand or upgrade businesses and cannot exceed the verified uninsured disaster loss.
If you sustained physical damage to your business of any size, you may be eligible for up to $2 million in Business Physical Disaster Loans for the repair or replacement of real estate, inventories, machinery, equipment and all other physical losses. The $2 million statutory limit for business loans applies to the combination of physical and economic injury and applies to all disaster loans to a business and its affiliates for each disaster. If a business is a major source of employment, SBA has the authority to waive the $2,000,000 statutory limit. Subject to this maximum, loan amounts cannot exceed the verified uninsured disaster loss.
Small businesses, small agricultural businesses, and nonprofits that have not experienced physical damage but have sustained significant economic losses as a result of the fires, may be eligible for up to $2 million in Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) to meet necessary financial obligations. The actual amount of each loan is limited to the economic injury determined by SBA, less business interruption insurance and other recoveries up to the administrative lending limit. SBA also considers potential contributions that are available from the business and/or its owner(s) or affiliates. The deadline to apply for EIDL is May 10, 2024.
Q. I always thought that Small Business Administration (SBA) loans were only for businesses. What if your home or apartment was damaged or destroyed by the wildfire – can homeowners and renters apply for SBA loans too?
Homeowners and renters may also be eligible for low interest SBA loans up to $200,000 to repair or replace disaster-related damages to homes or up to $40,000 to replace personal property, including automobiles. Subject to these maximums, loan amounts cannot exceed the verified uninsured disaster loss. The deadline to apply for SBA physical damage loans is October 10, 2023.
Q. Are there credit requirements?
- Credit History – Applicants must have a credit history acceptable to SBA.
- Repayment – Applicants must show the ability to repay all loans.
- Collateral – In Presidential declarations, physical business loans over $25,000 must be secured to the extent possible. For Agency declarations, physical business loans over $14,000 must be secured to the extent possible. All EIDL loans over $25,000 must be secured to the extent possible. SBA takes real estate as collateral when it is available. SBA will not decline a loan for lack of collateral but requires you to pledge what is available.
Q. What are the interest rates?
By law, the interest rates depend on whether each applicant has Credit Available Elsewhere. An applicant does not have Credit Available Elsewhere when SBA determines the applicant does not have sufficient funds or other resources, or the ability to borrow from non-government sources, to provide for its own disaster recovery. An applicant, whom SBA determines to have the ability to provide for his or her own recovery, is deemed to have Credit Available Elsewhere. Interest rates are fixed for the term of the loan.
Q. What are the terms of the loan?
The maximum term is 30 years. However, the law restricts businesses with Credit Available Elsewhere to a maximum 3-years term. SBA sets the installment payment amount and corresponding maturity based upon each borrower’s ability to repay.
Q. Are there any restrictions on eligibility for loans?
- Uninsured Losses – Only uninsured or otherwise uncompensated disaster losses are eligible. Any insurance proceeds which are required to be applied against outstanding mortgages are not available to fund disaster repairs and do not reduce loan eligibility. However, any insurance proceeds voluntarily applied to any outstanding mortgages do reduce loan eligibility.
- Ineligible Property – Secondary homes, personal pleasure boats, airplanes, recreational vehicles and similar property are not eligible, unless used for business purposes. Property such as antiques and collections are eligible only to the extent of their functional value. Amounts for landscaping, swimming pools, etc., are limited.
- Noncompliance – Applicants who have not complied with the terms of previous SBA loans are not eligible. This includes borrowers who did not maintain flood and/or hazard insurance on previous SBA or Federally Insured loans.
Q. Can an SBA disaster loan be used to relocate?
An SBA disaster loan can be used to relocate. The amount of the relocation loan depends on whether relocation is voluntarily or involuntarily. If the applicant is interested in relocation, an SBA representative can provide more details in the specific situation.
Q. Are There Insurance Requirements for Loans?
To protect each borrower and the Agency, SBA may require the applicant to obtain and maintain appropriate insurance. By law, borrowers whose damaged or collateral property is located in a special flood hazard area must purchase and maintain flood insurance for the full insurable value of the property for the life of the loan.More information can be found at www.sba.gov/content/apply-disaster-loan.
Q. Is There Help Available for Refinancing?
- SBA can refinance all or part of prior mortgages that are evidenced by a recorded lien, when the applicant: (1) does not have credit available elsewhere, (2) has suffered substantial uncompensated disaster damage (40% or more of the value of the property), and (3) intends to repair the damage.
- Homes – Homeowners may be eligible for the refinancing of existing liens or mortgages on homes, in some cases up to the amount of the loan for real estate repair or replacement.
- Businesses – Business owners may be eligible for the refinancing of existing mortgages or liens on real estate, machinery and equipment, in some cases up to the amount of the loan for the repair or replacement of real estate, machinery, and equipment.
Q. What if the SBA denies or only partially approves your loan request? Can you appeal?
Yes, A disaster victim must file the appeal with SBA’s Office of Hearings and Appeals (OHA) within 45 calendar days of receiving the SBA determination being appealed. OHA must receive your appeal by 5 p.m. ET on the 45th business day. Appeals can be filed by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or fax at 202-205-7059. Appeals are also accepted via the SBA’s Hearing and Appeals Submission Upload (HASU) Application. The judge should issue a written decision within 90 calendar days of the date the appeal was filed.
To learn more about this subject, tune into this video podcast.
Disclaimer: this material is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. The law varies by jurisdiction and is constantly changing. For legal advice, you should consult a lawyer that can apply the appropriate law to the facts in your case.