NBC 5 Responds: What to Expect From FEMA's Virtual Inspections

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If you had uninsured or underinsured costs because of the winter storm disaster in February, you should apply for individual assistance through FEMA. People in most North Texas counties qualify for individual assistance because of the Major Disaster Declaration.

To confirm you live in a county where individual assistance through FEMA is available, click here.

If you’ve already applied, you can expect to hear back from FEMA which may ask you for a virtual inspection.

Here’s what to expect so you can accurate self-report your losses.

No in-person inspections during COVID-19

Typically, during a major disaster, FEMA would conduct in-person inspections to assess the damage and determine assistance eligibility. During the COVID-19 pandemic, FEMA said it will handle all inspections remotely.

“It's really important to be very thorough in that remote inspection,” said Marly Maskill, manager of disaster partnerships and training with a disaster nonprofit called SBP.

“Most of them are being done through Zoom or through FaceTime. One thing you can do to guarantee you have a thorough inspection is to make a list ahead of time so you don't forget anything when you have that conversation,” said Maskill.

Maskill said make a list of the damage your home sustained, the contents that were damaged and be ready to show photos or videos of the steps you took to mitigate damage. Save your receipts.

After you register with FEMA, Maskill said FEMA will usually call within about 10 days to follow up and assess if the damage to your home is minor or serious enough that you can not safely stay in your home.

“If you are unsafe in your home, you're going to move to the front of the list. If you have minor damage on your home, you may just be scheduled a little bit later because they're going to prioritize those individuals that can't remain in their home right now,” explained Maskill.

FEMA may not necessarily ask everyone for a virtual inspection.

“FEMA may say we have enough to decide your case right now, we don't need a remote inspection,” said Maskill. “But, every homeowner has the ability to request that and you absolutely should. By requesting that remote inspection, you're really going to be able to demonstrate to FEMA the full impact of the storm on your home.”

If you’re not familiar with video calls, FEMA said inspectors can set up the virtual inspections and explain how to participate. You can also ask for a phone call and FEMA said reasonable accommodations can be made for people who need translation services or ASL interpreters.

Understanding your determination letter

FEMA will send you notifications about the assistance you could receive. If you disagree with what is offered, Maskill said you can appeal.

“It usually takes one or two weeks to get your determination letter. Once you do, you have 60 days to either accept or appeal,” said Maskill.

“It's really the start of the conversation. So, if there is supplemental information that could provide more context to FEMA as to why you need more resources, you should absolutely appeal and provide that information,” added Maskill.

If your determination letter says FEMA is not awarding any assistance yet, it may be because FEMA is waiting on more information from your insurance provider.

“Some people are going to get a letter saying that FEMA is unable to make a decision on whether they should get a grant for emergency home repairs. That often is because of missing information or their insurance company has not settled yet,” explained Nate Custer with FEMA.

FEMA won’t duplicate what insurance covers. FEMA will only help with assistance for uninsured or underinsured losses.

“If you're waiting on your insurance settlement to file an appeal, you have a little bit of a window there. If your insurance is taking longer, you can reach out to FEMA and let them know and they'll still allow you to appeal,” said Maskill.

How to apply for FEMA assistance

If you haven’t applied yet, it’s not too late.

FEMA recommends you apply online.

You can also reach someone over the phone at 800-621-3362 (TTY: 800-462-7585) seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

There are low-interest disaster loans available through the U.S. Small Business Administration for businesses, homeowners and renters. You can find more information online or by calling 1-800-659-2955 (TTY: 800-877-8339).

FEMA wants both insured and uninsured Texans to apply.

“Often, we get people who had relatively minor damage while the folks down the street maybe got hit a lot harder. They'll say, well, they need the help more than I do. I'm going to defer to them,” said Custer. “Don't let the extent of the damage hold you back. We consider anything from the minor end of things to the catastrophic ends. And, it doesn't matter the socioeconomic background, what income level, what type of neighborhood. We look at everything and we don't rule out anybody.”

If you’re in a county that is not currently eligible for individual assistance, you can fill out the state's damage assessment report, which will be used with the goal of securing more federal relief.


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