Texas Disaster Legal Help Podcast

Recovery After a Disaster: FEMA Appeals

January 08, 2021 Texas Disaster Legal Help Project
Recovery After a Disaster: FEMA Appeals
Texas Disaster Legal Help Podcast
More Info
Texas Disaster Legal Help Podcast
Recovery After a Disaster: FEMA Appeals
Jan 08, 2021
Texas Disaster Legal Help Project

Join the TDLH Podcast team as they talk with Christina Brown and Chase Porter about common oversights in the initial FEMA application and how to appeal a decision.

Visit our website 

Music Credit:
Track: Travel With Us — Vendredi [Audio Library Release]
Music provided by Audio Library Plus
Watch: https://youtu.be/o-rpKzt4KSY
Free Download / Stream: https://alplus.io/travel-us

Show Notes Transcript

Join the TDLH Podcast team as they talk with Christina Brown and Chase Porter about common oversights in the initial FEMA application and how to appeal a decision.

Visit our website 

Music Credit:
Track: Travel With Us — Vendredi [Audio Library Release]
Music provided by Audio Library Plus
Watch: https://youtu.be/o-rpKzt4KSY
Free Download / Stream: https://alplus.io/travel-us

Recovery After a Disaster


Christina Brown (Lone Star Legal Aid)

Chase Brown (Lone Star Legal Aid)

(Recorded Oct. 2nd, 2020)



welcome everyone my name is pablo


almaguer you all know me the director of




 government and private bar relations


there you go, it takes a while to say


that early in the morning here and i


haven't had enough coffee


but here together we're doing a the


joint project


that we're  putting together some


podcasts for pro bono attorneys and this


is our


second cle topic third podcast


this one is gonna be recovery after a


disaster before we begin though on


the topic and


head over to belinda who's going to


introduce  our two speakers i want to


just kind of remind you all what this is all




this project  is a coordinated project


between legal aid of northwest texas


Lone star legal aid and texas

Rio grande legal aid


its aim of improving access to justice


for those affected by disasters


our project allows both disaster


survivors and pro bono attorneys to


access critical resources in one place


while at the same time making it easier


to connect disaster survivors need an


evil help the volunteer attorney is


willing to provide it


if you haven't gone yet to the website


this is a bit of a long website but you


can hopefully write it down


or we want to take back here a bit to


listen to it it's texas


disaster legal health dot








check it out see the many resources we


have there and include this podcast and


many others


so having said that here let me go ahead


and turn over to my co-host belinda



 thank you pablo


our guests today are christina brown and


chase porter,  christina is a


graduate of southern university law




and holds a bachelor's of arts from


university of texas at san antonio


she was an equal justice works fellow


serving in the disaster recover legal




drlc for the past two years she is


currently a staff attorney in the


disaster relief unit at lone star legal




she's dedicated to protecting and


advocating for the rights of vulnerable


communities and has experience


representing clients in various single




legal matters including workers


compensation personal injury and




liability claims our second guest is


chase porter


he's a graduate of texas a& m has a


master's degree in public policy from ut


Austin's LBJ school of public affairs


and he went to law school at the


university of texas school of law


he's currently an equal justice works


fellow at lsla's houston office working




environmental challenges facing


communities on the texas gulf coast


including the consequences of climate


Change and the increased frequency of disasters


he just finished in august two years as


a member of the equal justice works


disaster recovery


legal corps at lone star legal aid where


he focused on a broad number of issues


facing survivors of hurricane harvey in


houston and harris county


including handling a number of fema



 thank you guys for being with us




so good to be here okay so just get to


start it 

 big pictures disasters


what are we seeing in texas


yeah so i mean i'll go ahead and i'll


answer that i think


 you know specifically in texas


flooding right like that it kind of


seems like even if it's not necessarily


a hurricane right like a


just we all we're we seem to always get


a lot of that tropical moisture and so


you know holds over the city you know it


seems like every time it rains here


there's some sort of flood so i think


you know it's going to be for


you know specifically for houston


anyways i think it's probably more of


like a flooding situation


 you know but although obviously we


see our fair share of you know




but  i know that this is you know


maybe needs to be a little bit broader


so i know there's a lot of different


types of natural disasters and things


that occur


you know that would you know prompt you




fema you know assistance and help but


but yeah that's pretty much what you


know we see here


okay and i'm assuming with


climate change or whatever you believe


is causing it we are seeing


more disasters than in recent years  i


know austin's have fires


 dallas has tornadoes and lovely


houston gets


 hurricanes  just


have you seen the increase in  the


last couple years last decade


and how much of an increase


definitely and in houston it seems like


you know i came here to help


specifically with harvey


and while i was still trying to help


people recover from harvey


we had hurricane or tropical storm


 tropical storm rolled through we had




other flood events that that were


affecting people


so it's we're getting to a frequency


where it seems like


by the time we're just recovering from


the previous storm


we're being hit again which puts people


in this unfortunate


cycle of recovery and then


recovering again  and i think we're


in in west texas we've seen some




 we all know that what's going on on


the west coast right now


as we're speaking that we're seeing a


huge uptick


in not just hurricanes but fires


other flood events and you know i


suspect they'll see


more tornadoes and severe storms that




rip through parts of texas and in the


southeast so


 we're certainly seeing more and more


events that bring


fema and other disaster assistance the




in fact let me just ask something here


real quick i'm sorry christina


i'll go ahead no and i mean i was just


going to piggyback on what chase said i


mean i can think that just in the last




years you know i think it was like


 2015 and 2016  where we had the memorial day


flood the tax day floods you know


then in  2017 there was hurricane harvey


then there was


you know imelda and then hannah


and you know so it's like even in the


last five years it feels like


every year something you know there's


some sort of disaster


is affecting you know the southeast you




coast of texas and so  it it really


had i mean fema's


you know doing a lot you know has been


helping out a lot you know for


those  southeastern counties here in




yeah i was going to say when i you know


been practicing for 20 years which i


think is about the age of most of you


all here on the screen


 and about  10 years ago or so just


take it take it though yeah


 i'm actually have a screen here you


all can only listen to us but trust me


they sound and look young i'm the old


one here


but  i remember that ten years ago we


didn't even have a disaster assistance


or recovery team in legal aid so i want


our pro bono attorneys to know that we


actually have to


specialize in it because many of the


people who are affected have to come to


us for services so now we have


all three legal aids maybe around the


nation too and have specified


specific teams that focus just on


disastrous assistance and recovery


isn't that the case for lone star and


for  i'm sure also legal aid of 


northwest texas


yes  lone story does have a dedicated


disaster relief unit


and as you said it's become a hot button


Specialty law sector


unfortunately i mean it was


like at one point


i mean chase how many attorneys did we i




 10 12 attorneys at one point and i was


about to say that


it the size of our unit has goes up and


down over time a little bit just


funding issues but there is definitely a




where we may have been the largest


individual group of attorneys at lone


star legal aid


we were our unit in houston was


certainly bigger than than


a number of our offices and that's


how much work there was to do yeah it


was like it's like a mid-sized firm


almost you know like of attorneys


just working on disaster assistance and


helping people recover


and things like that so i mean it's


definitely been an uptick i mean i think


that kind of shows just how


you know dire and kind of just how you


know repetitive


you know disaster disasters are becoming


at this point


that's right 


Okay so after disaster when does fema show up




how do they show up 

Well the big thing to keep out keep a lookout




after a disaster or potentially in the


days before


disaster if it's obvious that houston's


going to be hit by


a massive hurricane or new orleans or




that the president has to declare a


federal disaster


and in that that federal declaration


will identify


counties or states and where the


the disaster has been declared and then


he will


identify what types of assistance are


available fema


as i think most people know is a massive




with a number of of programs and types


of assistance


aimed at individuals on up to the local




state governments in that he will


identify individual assistance may be




and when that is in that declaration


that's when


legal aids client base individual




and individuals can get assistance from




so that's really the starting point when


you see that


that's when fema will will open up their


phone lines they'll open up their




and they will come physically come to


the disaster affected area


and set up what are called disaster


recovery centers


usually called the drc and this is where


individuals can


physically go to apply for fema


assistance in person


okay so they can go to these centers and


someone will help them with the initial




right you know a lot of people now


have smartphones especially


during covid more and more people have


gotten access to the internet but we


after a disaster  it's quite possible


you won't have that ability or you maybe


you just don't have that technology


and so the drc's are set up where you


can physically go to

fema has staff available


sometimes they're legal aid or other


attorneys that are allowed in to


kind of help educate people  but


that's where you can go to


physically interact with a fema rep who


can help you with the application


and let me let me ask about that i think


it happens at all drc's around the state


or nation


it's actually the aba young lawyers


division i believe that has a station


agreement with the drc's to have a


station there and usually the legal aid




manned those stations or one of those


many stations that people visited the


drc's is that correct


yes that's right yeah yeah and yeah


pablo and you and you say that and it's


like you know even


you know every time there's about an


impending you know 


hurricane or something that's coming i


mean we literally have like disaster


hits in our trunks right like we




you're in the disaster relief unit like


you you have these these tools available




we're gonna have to then go out to those


centers right like if it does happen if


it does strike and so


you know we're prepared i mean that's


just the level of preparation that goes


into making sure that we can get out to




you know these centers and and you know


make sure that people


register and i also kind of just wanted


to note it that you know


people and this is for those you know


pro bono lawyers who have


no idea how to do this but you know


people only have 60  days to register


with fema right like so you only get


you know  60 days after the declaration


for you to be able to apply for fema you


know services and


sometimes it's extended but i don't even


like i don't even like to you know


rely on that because you know it's just


so important for people to know even if


even if you don't need the help even if


you have insurance like you know it's


just really important that people


if you were affected by the disaster you


just you definitely have to apply


you know within those days and so that's


like what chase was saying


if you don't have a smartphone if you


don't have access to those things


that's when those drc centers you know


become  very beneficial to a lot of


people who you know are just trying to


you know


make it through what's already you know


a difficult situation


so i think what you're saying is that


you all were doing remote advocacy


before it was fashionable like it is


nowadays so we're ready to go in that


old box like


we have two right with some files with


your wi-fi


with your cell phone your satellite


phone sometimes to get through so i want


folks to know that we have experts in


the field here and all legal aids they


can answer your questions but


also remember that  the largest number


of applicants of course go to the drc's


and we have somebody there so we get a


lot of applicants at legally because we


have somebody there


doing the intakes and that's why we need


the pro bono help


and also i guess the second phase of the


fema application is we do a lot of




for clients  so just a


general note on appeals because that's


generally what the pro bono


volunteers are going to be doing so just




 client has been denied what's the


deadline to appeal for fema


yeah so i mean the deadline is you know


it's sixty days


usually it's generally  60 days from the


date of the denial letter right


but i do kind of want to just go back to


you know


i i think it's really great that there's


pro bono attorneys out there that really


want to help because


we really do get inundated and all the


help that we can get during those


disasters i mean is so beneficial and we


can help so many people


but you know you want to make sure that


you get you know an authorization for


release of information for fema right if


you're gonna


represent these people be filing


their appeals make sure that you have


that because fema


you know they're not you you want to get


a copy of their file like right and the


only way that you can do that is with


that authorization for release of


information right


so i'm sorry i just wanted to kind of go


back no


actually that's a good point let's back


up what's the general process of an




just in general like where would you




right so i mean you know you apply for


and i don't know we wanted to get into


specifics on all there's a bunch of


different types of   assistance that


you can you know that fema offers right


after a disaster has you know 


hit and so  you know when people start


applying for these different you know




and different you know disaster


assistance that's whenever you know you


start getting the denials right it's




it takes them about  90 days to come up


with a decision on what


you know what you qualify for the amount


you know things like that and so then


you know


people start getting those denial


letters and so when the denial letters


come you know usually it's


maybe they're missing some sort of


information from you know the file


or you know maybe a fema inspector


gone out there and says that they


believe that the home is


what they call habitable which means you


you can live in the home right we don't


think there was that much damage and so


 yeah which is a very you know we


fight with that a lot it's a very


very subjective  kind of


 evaluation i guess you would like to


say that


that that they perform but  you know


and so those appeals you know


you get a letter basically you're denied




whatever assistance that you've applied


for and you basically have 60  days right



60 days from the date of the denial letter


to either 


you know appeal or supplement your


information get whatever


you know whatever else they need 


there is 


a good cause exception and you know i


kind of use the example like sometimes


people get hurt in


a disaster right sometimes people are in


the hospital sometimes people get sick i


mean there are a lot of things that




that would prevent you from being able


to you know file that appeal within that


 day deadline and so


if you have some sort of good cause


argument you know


 we would definitely try to do that a


lot for our clients


and and i'll hop in there and say that


there are a lot of reasons why


it's 60 days well first off it's  60 days


from the date of the letter


in fema people applicants our clients


can set up an online account where


they'll see the letter immediately


but a lot of times our clients are


receiving these letters through the mail


it's not 60 days from when they got it


it's  60 days from the date of the letter


and a big issue that i


i've seen is after a disaster if people


can't live


go back to their home their house it got




their apartment building is shut down


whatever it may be


a huge issue is that fema doesn't have a


current address


so when you do work with


the first time you talk to a client i


think it's always worth


asking them where are they living now


does fema have that address


how how are you receiving information


from fema


you can always make the argument that


you didn't receive the letter because


you moved but fema


potentially will tell you you know it's


on you to


inform us where you are and make sure


you're getting that information


another thing about the the deadline


i've found sometimes that


fema doesn't necessarily strictly follow


the  60 day rule


 so i recommend sometimes if you're




 you can go ahead and file the appeal


even if you don't clearly see that


there's good cause


you can go ahead and try it just make




that you're you're setting the


expectation for


the client that we are past the 60 days


i've made my good cause argument but


i'm not sure it's it's a winning one or


you just decide to file the appeal


without highlighting the fact that


you're past the  60 days and just tell


them we're gonna try


but  i can't guarantee you that


they'll accept it


and as long as you set that expectation


up front i think you can go ahead and


try to get something in late


the worst case is you're told no best


cases they get help so keep that in mind




the  60 days depending


i guess on who's reviewing it i'm not


really sure how it happens it's a bit of




moving deadline you could say and i


think so just piggyback what you know


off of what chase said as far as like


managing your clients expectations


i think that's also important with like


you know when you're receiving that you




monetary you know assistance from fema


like you know


it's not meant to make you whole you


know and i think that's one of the


biggest misconceptions


is that you know  people expect that


you know


you know fema's gonna give me everything


that i need to make my house you know


just the way it was before and and


the truth is it just doesn't work that


way right and so i think that it's


really important


you know if you do decide to take on


these fema appeals which are which are


super easy


super you know once you get the template


once you get it down and so i really


want to encourage


anyone who's listening to this you know


that that they're it's really easy and


it's a it's a really great way to help


people but


  i agree with chase you definitely


have to manage you know


you have to manage their expectations


 let me say something real quick here


because i know our pro bono attorneys


might not be


maybe they have taken cases before maybe


they have not but it's a very important


point you all kind of made in passing


but it is happening in fema cases


that the status the poverty status of


our clients is used against them as a


reason for denial and it's just


not we don't want to kind of ignore that


issue because it really is because


i've seen it you know our clients have


been told yeah you wanted to have your


your house without a roof in leaking


water in here you've had it like this


forever you live like this


because you haven't repaired it no i


have a humble abode because you know i


don't have the money to


you know expand it but it wasn't leaking


like this and those are literally


actually i've never been fights and


fema appeals that my house is not this


bad in this repair just i don't have


money to repair


i wanted to make that point for pro bono


attorneys because you will see some of


those appeals and


chase you mentioned date of the letter


that's the denial letter right of the


of the benefits yes so fema


after you apply  fema will


look at your application and look at the


supporting documentation that was


submitted which could be


insurance policies receipts bills


i guess you could submit photos 


they may send an inspector out to your




i'm backing up a little bit here back


kind of to the application process but


 fema will send an inspector out to


the property to look at it


or they may do what's called a


geospatial inspection which is they


look at like a satellite image to see


damaged areas


and look at the documentation you


submitted they evaluate that and


identify what they


 what they believe that you're


entitled to receive from them


they'll send a letter  it may be an


award letter saying


you get all these things that


you you think you you might want or


they'll send a


what i call a partial denial letter


which says that you're receiving


 x amount of money for these reasons


but we're denying this and this and here


are the reasons


or they'll just send a letter denying


you outright


 that that's typically when


as attorneys we come in 


that through the application process


it's a lot of education


answering questions when that appeal


letter comes through


 typically that's when we step in and


we identify the


the type of assistance that they're


trying to to achieve


to to get and the reasons why fema has


denied them


 and then so the date of that letter


 starts that 60-day clock 


christina mentioned supplementing


letters that we send to fema


supplementing our appeal letters which


are in response to the


denial letter  as long as you get in


your initial


appeal within that  60 days or you have


good cause


or it's been accepted  i always would


recommend that


if you you do have


supplemental information to give to fema


say for example the client


needs to provide insurance information


but they weren't able to get that




in time to send it within the  60 days


to send what you can to fema within the


 60 days


and then up until you hear from fema


making a decision go ahead and


supplement that application


or that appeal with whatever


documentation whatever information you


can gather


up until that date  don't hold


back information just because you've


already sent an appeal in


and you're past that  60 days i just want


to make sure we highlight that and


people know that they can do that


if your client ends up taking a video of


the damages


after the appeal letter or has some


documentation go ahead and give it to


the attorney and so it can be sent in


absolutely and make it when you


you have that initial conversation with


a client  set that expectation


that they need to send you 


whatever may be relevant and they need


to communicate with you that if they


receive a letter from fema


to send it to you soon as possible if


they're able


as soon as they're able to gather


documents to make sure that they can get




to you as soon as they can


 and just a question  there is


flat-out denial and there is denial


because missing paperwork


 but let's say you do get some money


can you appeal


for additional money if you're like no i


had way more damages than what you're


saying i need a little bit more


absolutely yeah sure i mean you want to


take a chase


sure i i was just going to say that fema


they use a very specific system where


they identify




personal types of personal property or


elements of your house and they'll


they'll judge that


you know your kitchen needed so much


money and they may judge that your




doesn't need to be repaired if they


grant you some money to


to fix your kitchen up but you still


feel like your bedroom is not habitable




can't reasonably live there you can




file an appeal asking for more money and


the same goes for personal property if




give you a certain amount of money to




medication but it's not enough to




cover all the medication you lost you


can certainly appeal for more money


and i think i just want to kind of just


backtrack you know pablo


you know something that you said and


then kind of you know 


similar to like what chase is saying is


that you know


those videos just like you said if you


you know it's so important that we do


that we're pro you know we're proactive


rather than reactive right


so i know we're talking about fema


appeals which is kind of after the


disaster has passed but


that's why it's so important even for


you know you pro bono attorneys out


there you know you guys have family on


you know gulf coasts or you know in


wildfires and things like that but that


you know you take a video of your home


take pictures of your home before


a disaster you know occurs and that way


you know


you know you have that and then and then


after it happens you know you also take


videos and photos right


it makes it a lot easier right when you


when you have a before and after to show


like hey this is the damage like


you know because just like you said some


people live very humbly


and you know and so you know an


inspector coming in may think that this


is already not like sorry we're not


going to help you because you want us to


fix your house up and it was never


you know whatever to begin with and so


that that's why it's really important to


kind of


just you know pictures videos you know


things like that are going to be really


really helpful


you know if you have them before and


then if you have them kind of like after


and so


you know it's always kind of good to you


know ask your clients that's why we do a


lot of like outreach


before the next disaster hits so that we


can make sure to get that kind of


information out


you know to people  and it just makes


our lives easier their lives easier it


helps us to be able to help them get the


disaster assistance


you know that they need in a timely you


know manner


and and keep important documents in a


very safe place


you'll you'll find that fema


assistance to our client base and


potentially us and our families and




 there there's a bunch of different


programs but


most of them are very document based


fema wants to see your insurance policy


fema wants to know


 that you have a


prescription for this type of medication




 needs to see your your bills for




 keep those important documents like


 a deed to your house something


showing the ownership of your house


if you're a renter a copy of your lease


make sure you have a copy of your lease


showing you occupy somewhere if you have


insurance on your car your house your




whatever it may be keep those documents


somewhere safe


identification right like you can't even


apply for fema


without an id you know so and it's like




if you don't have some sort of


waterproof container put it in a double




bag you know what i'm saying like


something simple it doesn't cost


a lot but you know that will even


protect it from you know protect your


documents from


you know from the floodwaters and so 


yeah just like chase said it's that


that's that's really important


you know i actually i want to let pro


bono attorneys know not only is it


podcast available at the website that i


mentioned the top


of the recording here but some of these


forms are talking about some sample


stuff is also available there so if you


have a chance go to the website and


check that out


but if you want to contact your local


legal agency you want them some


you know sort of preventative training


to happen we do it for both clients


and attorneys how to prepare for a


disaster so you can prepare your office


or your clients can prepare for their




and the simple like a little advice


putting in a waterproof container for




that helps so much when you start doing


these appeals for your clients


a lot of a lot of fema denials are


are simply a paperwork issue


 if you were to look at


the the big document explaining all the


eligibility criteria it's overwhelming


it's huge


but so many of the appeals that we


take on for clients we take on some that


are real


they're monsters of you're arguing about


whether a house is habitable and you're


it can be quite the fight but a lot of




are simply because fema didn't get a




 because your client didn't have it at


the time or


fema didn't process it correctly or fema


just doesn't understand what they're




at  and so a lot of issues if you can


work with the client to locate a


specific document


or or contact the insurance company and


get them to send you a policy whatever


it may be you can solve a lot of these




by just narrowing down what what


document does fema need to see and once


i submit that document


the gate will be open and i


the floodgate will be open i hate to


make the flood reference but


 you know a lot of these appeals


really are one little discrete issue


and so if you can just see the denial


letter understand


what does fema need to see and if it's


not clear


call fema or reach out to a legal aid




 you can you can do a lot of good by




sending fema one document with a little


explanation of what it is


you know i don't think i've ever done a


training for disaster assistance without


using those words flooding


opening the gates or perfect storm and i


always have to be careful i don't know


why but it happens


every time we talk about these things




oh no no you're fine you're absolutely




i'm just going to go back to you say


fema actually goes and inspects


the property either the apartment or


the home


does fema have set standards for those


inspections like


every inspector okay i getting a lot of head shaking 


Everyone’s face... right belinda can see


our reactions


you want to go you can take the camera i


you know i mentioned that


christina knows that i i will 


when i was still doing fema appeals up


until a couple weeks ago


 fight to the death with fema over




 the the standards are a little




 basically this is important to know


we talked about managing expectations


and so


let me kind of go back to that 


fema will if you let's say you have two




in your household fema will only


offer to repair enough of your house


that they think


is needed for two people so they may not


repair your entire house i've had this


with a client who she had a two-bedroom


house and she


lived there alone or fema thought she


lived there alone


they refused to touch one of her




and the one bedroom that they were


willing to repair


they only offered to repair so much of




because the standard is it has to be




and it's not always very obvious


where that standard is i've 


you know i it's subjective we have no


idea how they make the determination if


we're just going to be  100 we have no


idea how fema


determines whether this house is


habitable and this one is like


i have no we don't know right and so it




it's kind of one of those battles that i


think we're kind of kind of like legal


like legal aides across the country are


gonna you know slowly have to fight


together to get some sort of clarity on


but as it stands right now


we don't have that the standard


go ahead pablo i'm sorry no no


 i was just gonna say i you know make


it clear to clients and make sure that


you understand


that the standard for whether something


is habitable


or uninhabitable can be can appear


quite low and you have to be realistic


with the client that fema's


probably not going to fix your bedroom


all the way back up to where it was


before or your kitchen


 if they


understand that they may be a little


more understanding of why


fema is continuing to deny them for


habitability reasons even if


we strongly disagree with that decision


it's just important to relay to clients


to make sure they understand


fema's not looking to make you


completely whole


you know and something to add to that


several of us organizations of legal aid


organizations around the nation actually


have actually filed suits


against fema to just have a definition


clarified you know


and we identify many of these issues


because we see them when the fema


denials come back so if you're a pro


bono attorney and seeing the pattern


you let us know it could probably work


on something to better define it and




are some large firms out there if


they're listening here you're part of a


large firm


who've assisted us in those appeals i'm


all in


in the clarifications of the regulations


that are sometimes non-existent i think


we have them like a super secret or


super super secret you know


 sort of interpretations that we have


to kind of discover once in a while but


 this is a benefit having pro bono attorneys


Help us out to identify these




yeah and then i just kind of wanted to


add to chase for the pro bono attorneys


that are listening to this you know


 one of the ways we try to get around


the whole habitability argument


is we get other inspectors  we we have other you


know people go out and


you know what's the word i'm looking for


contractors to go out and do estimates


like no


like they need at least fifty thousand


dollars based on you know the damages


that have occurred and so sometimes


getting those second opinions


 and then submitting those with the


fema appeal right like


you know like sometimes you know that's


kind of the way that we try to get


around the habitability


you know   kind of there well the


denial is the better word 


i don't we haven't quite gone through it


and i don't know if i'm i'm kind of




the gun but just kind of just like what


needs to be in a fema appeal


 you know we talked about the  60 days


you know you have to appeal


of course you know you're gonna have to


give a written explanation right include


the law and the facts you know stafford




you know things like that i think just


like you mentioned pablo you guys may


have some sort of resources 


available  some templates there


and then you know you're going to want


to make sure that you get copies of


Documents and photos from your clients




proof of the disaster losses like you


need that when you submit that appeal


like don't submit it


you absolutely need that information 


and then every


every disaster in case anyone didn't


know every disaster has a four-digit


disaster number right and and and every


fema application has a nine digit fema


number and so you want to make sure that


that four digit disaster number and that


nine digit fema


application number is on every single


piece of documentation that you submit to




like i don't care if it's just a photo


of the front of that like


every in the i put it in the  the




of of my appeals and i make sure i put


it because a lot of times stuff gets


lost and


you know they can't find they don't know


where it goes and then you you know so


it can become you know kind of


crazy to say the least in the whole you


know application and appeal process


and dealing with just fema in general


and then you know you got to make sure


that it's signed by the attorney and it


has to be signed by the applicant


under penalty of perjury right like the


applicant has to sign it under penalty


of perjury you know that


everything you know within here is


basically you know true and correct so i


just kind of wanted to just give just


kind of a really quick


like snapshot of what needs to be


included and you know what we do is we


make them exhibits right in the back of


the you know in the back of the appeal


give out you know you give out


everything you know the law the facts


you know how this pertains to that


particular client what you're asking


fema for


and then you know exhibit a b c d

 I think i mean i think i had


almost to L  one time like you know just




you know making sure that fema has


everything they need so


you know they can't say no you know and


so  that's kind of


just kind of where go ahead yeah chase


you can


i mean i think you make a good point 


first off there are


there are just some elements of an


appeal that need to be there


 the the client's name address


their fema registration number  the


disaster number


those can all be found on their denial


letter by the way


 or if you have a question you can


call the fema hotline


importantly though fema won't talk to us


as their advocates


unless  a fema authorization is on file


and i don't think fema has a standard


form but i think


all the legal aids have created a form


that they they send in


 i'm correct me for wrong i'm sure


that form is available


some type of form like that's available


absolutely pro bono attorneys


 texas disaster legal help website we


do have


sample appeals letter with citing the


stafford act and some examples of code


that may be helpful and then we also do


have a


a template for the authorization of




so yeah so always make sure that you


send that


in even if you're just sending in an


appeal that is signed by the


the client go ahead and send that


authorization into


if you're you're getting the client to


sign the appeal they can sign the




 that way it's in if you need to call


the fema hotline to get clarification


about something


if you don't quite understand an appeal


letter or a denial letter excuse me


you can call and get a little bit more




and as far as you know all the evidence


and stuff


you can make a fema appeal as long as


involved as you want it i don't think it


does any harm


 sometimes if they're asking for a


very discreet document


 just write in your appeal letter on


october 1st 2020  you sent


client a letter stating that they're


denied for


assistance repairing their vehicle


because they


did not show that they didn’t have


insurance covering the damage


attached to this letter is the insurance




with the car and a letter from their


insurance company


saying that they are not covering the


damage and you can potentially just


leave it at that if you want to 


or you can like christina was talking


about you can


add photos whatever you think is


appropriate just put in


more than what you think fema may want


to know if if you have the time and


ability to do so


and i want to point out something out


too that we talk about appeals here we


hear appeals and


we want to make sure as you hear from


the representers here they're not table


of contents


briefs you know code of appeals appeals


they're appealing


to administrative agencies so  there


might be the stafford act  some other


citations to the law


but you can be licensed anywhere in the


nation to help with fema appeals


in texas you can even be law students


supervised by a law professor for that


so  don't feel intimidated by the word




you can advocate if you can advocate you


can make you can draft one of these




yeah i think most of the time fema


i think a lot of appeals are hand


written by a client that doesn't have


a legal advocate helping them so


 yeah don't feel like it's not


you're not going to to miss a rule about


margins or


or font it's whatever form you want to


want to submit you can submit it just


make sure that you have that crucial bit


of information that the name address


registration number disaster number and


make sure that your client signs it with


the statement saying that i'm


signing this under penalty of perjury




will throw your appeal out if that's not




as long as you have that you're good to


go and the rest of it can be whatever


form you think makes the most sense


and then i kind of wanted to just give


like a little i don't know if it's a tip


or trick or


just you know you wouldn't know it if


this was your first time


helping with fema appeals and so you


know we generally


don't get the cases right off the bat


right like


help but let us because if if i was to


be able to send it the first time


we might have better luck right we


generally get them after they've been




once twice three times and now they're


coming like hey i need help


you know i keep getting a denial from


fema and so that's why that whole


authorization is really important to get


as soon as possible because


i'm gonna tell you i can't there's been


a lot of times where i requested the


entire file from


fema and i find the documents that they




that they never received you know


and so it's like you know


and sometimes you know our clients


aren't able to articulate


why they were denied sometimes fema


isn't very clear on why you know they


were denied and so


a copy of the file from fema can be 


extremely extremely helpful and just you


as a lawyer kind of picking through


going through


okay let me understand kind of like


what's happened and where you are in the




of this appeal you know so that's kind


of a


you know depending on when you get it


right i mean if you're catching it


you know three months out the gate you


probably there's not gonna be a lot but


i mean we were getting cases


too i mean just like chase said like he


just finished a few weeks ago so


you know you have time to request that


file go through it


and like you know no you did have that


information so


what's you know what's the problem and


so i just kind of think that's


something that you know


would be kind of just a just a little


tidbit to help you out if it's


the first time you're having a deal you


know with with fema


okay so i just want to point out so even


though the appeal may be denied that


might not be the end of the road there


might be


other things you can still do to help


that client 



maybe the most frustrating thing about


fema is in a denial letter


you'll often see a statement at the end


of it that says this decision is final


 it's not you can keep appealing every




every denial letter  never let that




stop you from continuing with the appeal


yeah i mean i think even for me i think


i my i had


where i think it was the fourth time


right she had already done it three


times by the time it got to me we were


on like the fourth appeal and i mean


every letter says this is the final this


decision is final


and you know once i did it submitted the


correct documentation i mean we were


able to get her an extra like four grand




i mean it don't just like chase said


like do not be discouraged don't it's




final like you know it it


again this is where those guidelines and


those things that we


you know need from fema would would come


and help but but yeah so i


just like that it's not final and and i


had one thing that that came to mind


that i wanted to make sure


sometimes we've talked a lot about a


denial letter


sometimes fema will send the client a




it's not a denial letter per se but it's


just asking for more information


it's saying that we need this document


that may not have that may have a


shorter timeline on it than


 60 days fema the letter may


state that fema needs to document sent


to them within  20 days


 i think maybe sometimes it's 10 days


although that


that seems a little quick to me but 


this goes back to once you start that




making sure that the client understands


that that you need to get


the correspondence they receive from


fema as soon as they can get it to you


understanding that they may have


challenges and communication


 following a disaster and just


just due to their ...pablo brought up the




issue that a lot of our clients don't


have great community access to


communication  so keeping that in mind


but setting that expectation that they


need to send you these documents as soon


as they get them


because the you know if a client is as


frustrated and his


as christina said trying to appeal a


couple of times on their own they get


another letter


 they kind of assume it's probably if


it doesn't award them something they


kind of assume


it's just another denial  but on the


chance that


it's just asking for more information


make sure you don't miss that  20-day


deadline thinking you have  60 days to


send it in


so look at the letter  take


the day seriously if you're if you're


going to be late you can try it anyways


 but don't take the decision as final


part all that seriously


you can always appeal and just like


chase said like with the communication


and just like the lack of


understanding of just how the whole


process works for people


you know when you first get a client if


they don't understand it


get fema on the phone with your client


right before you i mean before you get


the authorization for release of


information if you call fema with your


client on the line


they will talk to you right like they'll


get permission from your clients


with them about it and then you can kind


of get a better understanding like hey


what happened why are you denying them


what do they need while you're waiting




the physical fema file to be sent to you


you know what i'm saying like


you don't have to wait because sometimes


that can take a month to get you know


you take a month to get a fema file


especially in the middle of a disaster


you know and so


you know call fema up now it's not


i didn't say it was going to be a quick


call but it makes you may be on the


phone for two hours with fema but


at least you then you are able to get a


better understanding as the lawyer


of like what's needed what we need to


start collecting what the client


needs because i'm gonna tell you eight


times out of ten the client doesn't know


and so they can't even articulate to you


all they know is they've gotten this


letter that says they're denied and so


 that that would that is very i think


a really kind of helpful thing


for people to know i guess the best


practical advice you can probably


multitask because you're trying to call


fema because you're going to be on hold


you're being transferred over and over


many times let me just warn you right




yeah yeah and know that when you call




whoever you're talking to is a


representative that


is looking at the file for the first


time so understand that they've not seen


this particular file before and so


have that expectation yourself that it


may take a little while for them to find


the information you need


and be prepared to


try to be as specific as possible 


in what you're asking and be prepared to


ask things a couple of different ways


or ask them to double check something


if something doesn't make sense ask them


to look at it again


because it is the first time they're


looking at that file they've not seen it




and there may be a lot of things going


on in it there may be


notes for different types of assistance


and you want to make sure that they're


looking at the the type that you


need information about so it can be a


bit frustrating but you'll get there


with them


it'll be alright okay thank you guys




i guess our final question is


you said most of the denial is for


missing paperwork missing documents


 what are the other common types of


reason for denial i know when i was


doing fema appeals


it seemed proof of ownership was a big


thing i would see over and over again


have you had the same issues with proof


of ownerships of homes



yeah so


that's a really that's a really big you




the whole proof of ownership and i mean


what we call


you know a clear title right not having


clear title to your home


 a lot of our clients you know 


have inherited their homes right so this


was grandma's home and


then my mom lived here and my mom is now


deceased and now i live here but the


problem is is that


that home is still in grandma's name and




you know fema's not going to give you


that repair assistance or give you money




you don't own the home on paper and so


that's a really


really big thing and and the thing is


people you don't know


they don't know until the disaster hits


until they try to get the help and


they're like


well of course this is my house like


this was my you know this was my


mother's house it's my house now but


and so we definitely help and work with


them to make sure we get those


 there's affidavits of heirships that


you can just different types of legal


documents to ensure


that they have you know homeowner rights


to that particular property and that


speeds up


you know the  you know disaster


you know assistance recovery if you have




and and on the the title issue


fema sometimes will allow you


to file almost like an affidavit or a


statement from


your client explaining you know


have it notarized or have the perjury


statement on it saying that this is


why i own the home this is how i came


about ownership


you can always do that and send it in


and fema may honor that


even if  you don't have


all the deeds and the affidavits of


heirship or


if you need to probate a will if you


don't have that done


especially because a lot of that can


take a while to do


you can always have the client explain


how they came about


ownership have that signed by them with


a notary or under


penalty of perjury send that to fema and


fema may honor that they don't always




 title requirements that are as strict


or as high as


a title company may have if you're


trying to sell a house or


some of the other disaster programs


state and local programs


often have very strict title


requirements so one thing to do


and then that reminds me of a good point


is one thing to do


is as you work through a fema appeal and


if you do see that there are ownership


problems  do what you can as a pro


bono attorney or


 you know see if there is another


attorney at your firm that wants to do


some title clearing or go back to the


legal aid that you you spoke to


and see if one of their attorneys can do


it     do your best to clear title


it will help them it may help them


recover from this disaster but it will


also put them


in a much better position in the future


when that other disaster


 comes and hits we started this with


the discussion about how


frequently these are coming through so


get them ready for the future while also


helping them cover


to make a finer point but it's an


obvious point to some people that we


don't have large estates here i think


you can probably take care of any of


these title clearing quote-unquote


issues when there's somebody who's


passed away


affidavit of heirship small estates affidavit


Transfer on death deed and


those documents mean a lot to many of


our clients


you will not necessarily be in a full


probate if you do take on one of those


cases and find a title issue i guess


it's the big point


right and like our clients don't probate


right like that


like that's i mean you know so it's yeah


i mean just like pablo exactly like our


clients what


it's so  those affidavits of heirship


and those transfer on death deeds are


like gold


like that's that gold standard for for


our clients right and so


 but yeah yeah and you know and to pro


bono attorneys


if you have an issue and you can't


communicate with a client you can't get


certain documents


remember to always come back to us


Legal aid and give us a call we'll help




contact them we we have experts in the


fields we'll find a way


to locate them somewhere the other so


don't spin your wheels they're trying to


deal with this too much come back to us


for an issue


yeah and i mean i don't know i don't


mind like i'm but you know belinda and




if y'all get i don't mind answering any


pro bono questions helping out whatever


whatever y'all i mean y'all know how to


contact me so if you guys get that i


Am 100%


for that     christina you're from the valley


i think earlier you told me and i'm from


the valley i have a lot of friends out


here i grew up here i have a bunch of


pro bono questions beyond disaster 

so be careful what you wish for


i just wanted to real quickly make a


point about the help and support


on the texas disaster legal help website


we do have a knowledge resource library


with a bunch of templates and some basic




fema numbers there is


attorney mentors that you can speak with


and in the coming months we're actually


starting a live chat so if you have a


quick question


you can type it in real fast and maybe


get a real-time answer


 so just we do support and help you


for the our volunteers who are willing


to help out our disaster survivors


though but thank you guys so much for


talking to us today


 we really appreciate it having two


knowledgeable experts


help out on this podcast and give some


great information to our volunteers


so thank you thanks sir thanks for


having us belinda and pablo it's been


it's been great


i just want to tell the pro bono


attorneys y'all it's not hard it's so




like it seems like it's like it's hard


because it's foreign and you don't know


but it is fema appeals is the best way


that you can help


like your local community your family


your friends who've been affected by a


disaster so


that's that's my i'll end it


there but yeah  i 

it sounds


overwhelming but when you see


a specific reason for denial you'll


realize that


here's a discrete issue i can do this i


can get the right documents i can


get the right photos and you can take


care of it you can do it


as frustrating as it can feel at times


once you understand what the problem is


there's usually a pretty


straightforward way to address it


yeah i like the way you all kind of said


like for example it says final but it's


not final


there are regulations but they're not


regular that's such a legal kind of


thing to say but that's what you need


attorneys in this in advocates because


you uncover all that


you'll say when it's final you'll know


what the regulation is if you have an


attorney involved


yeah yeah


 you just want to go ahead and walk us


out pablo


sure i think unless there's like we have


to give up five minutes here


if you want to give a quick story 


maybe belinda is that okay


one each a good fema appeal that you



a quick one two minutes long 

Go ahead


chase has the best one sure so you know


a theme of what i tell other legal aid




or pro bono attorneys is and what pablo


just talked about you know it'll be


final when we say it's final don't give




don't let don't let this final


this decision is final or the  60 days




lead you and the client to say we can't


take this any forward keep with


it i i had a client who 


he leased a bedroom from his family so


he lived with family members and fema


 gave him assistance and then gave his


family assistance they later


wanted to take his assistance back


because they thought they had given


they'd a family had double dipped 


and he he came to legal aid after a year


of trying to fight it on his own


and he had missed all sorts of deadlines


i think he was past the deadline when he


came to me 


i i ended up writing two appeal letters




that yes he's related to these people


but here's why he he was


leasing a room from them  he should be


treated like any other person renting a




 i sent a couple letters and there are


some other issues that we had to cover


as well but


 i ended up writing a letter to the


regional office for this part of the




and i i got a phone call


and i had to write a second letter


saying hey it's been three months y'all


haven't contacted me


and i finally got a phone call from a


supervisor saying


we did a complete review of this we 


we agree with 95% of what you said


 we're completely past the deadlines


and they


gave him more assistance than we asked




 and so that just hammered into me




keep going keep keep as long as you have


the time and ability to do it


 keep fighting  keep making the


argument because you may get there


even if it feels discouraging 

you know i


think that issue you're talking about is


that a recoupment issue that's what they


Term it


 that there is a recoupment issue so


fema if they feel that they have


overpaid somebody given too much


assistance for one reason or another


they may be able to recoup it


 there are ways to argue that


you know if it was fema's fault you can


tell fema well that was your fault we


already spent the money so you can't get


it back but


 if the client knows that they got


paid too much make sure they don't go


and spend it


and i ask about that because at tulane


university in louisiana who's seen their


share of disasters i passed through




i think they had a class action suit


about this issue a few years ago because


a year


after like the disaster you got you got


these letters from fema


yeah the regulation another another


thing that you may as a pro bono


attorney run into it it may be


two years from the last big disaster in


your area but that's when fema starts


going through the recoupment process and


so there may be an opportunity to take


one of those cases


and and make the argument of why fema


didn't overpay your client


or that if or that your client doesn't


have the ability to repay


yeah and i even have i have a few of


those recoupment cases now right like


from hurricane harvey so now fema’s 


going back they're auditing you


know so that


and i know we're kind of getting a


little bit there's just so much within


fema but


 you know that's why it's important


when people get that fema money you have


to use it specifically


for what they're giving it to you for


if you get home repair money it has to be used


on home repairs


you can't go put a down payment on a car


like that's not how this


would have well how about you buy your


rims for the car though


i mean you said this is not well i mean


well i mean you're just gonna you're not


gonna get a tax return you know to your


tax money for the next  years if


that's the heck


you know so that's just kind of another


thing it just you gotta when you get


that money whatever they say it's that's


what you have to use it for i don't care


about because


they're gonna come back and they're


gonna ask for receipts and they're gonna


ask for proof


how did you spend the money that we gave


you and if you cannot


provide that to them you're gonna have


to pay the government back and so


you know that's we're dealing with a lot


of that right now but you know that




way past it the fema appeal part

well thank you yeah thank


you so there's a bit of social work


aspect that we have to do for our


clients once in a while that happens


that way but listen


christina chase thank you all so much


honestly not only for being part of this


discussion  providing some great




but for taking part in such important


work you know at your local legal at


your own legal organization


 belinda i don't know if anything else


you want to add here but i think we're


ready to wind up here


and give it an hour yeah i think it's


been a great


i think it's been a great podcast it has


been thank you so much folks really


appreciate it and i hope those listening


 got a few ideas here and we'll go to


our website and pick up a few cases of


pro bono because even a year down the


line we'll be needing you


take it easy all okay bye