Jersey City

The kinds of storm recovery aid

We all connect with FEMA 

Whether or not you have insurance – FEMA is a key starting place for storm survivors.  They can help with temporary housing and additional grants, particularly to cover gaps where there wasn’t insurance.  See the FEMA section below for more details – but also know that FEMA is clear about their role and we should be too:  

“How can FEMA help you? Assistance from FEMA may help you and members of your household affected by a disaster take care of necessary expenses and serious needs that cannot be met through insurance or other forms of assistance.” opens in a new window(Quote from FEMA’s pamphlet on “Help After a Disaster,” download here in lots of languages)       

Krista’s Story: 

My neighbors that did not have flood insurance were given a new furnace, hot water heater, repaired a hole in the foundation, and probably money for washer/dryer. BUT, that is a one time deal. If you do not get flood insurance after that, they will not pay again.

FEMA Assistance 

FEMA has declared eleven counties designated disaster areas where both individual and public assistance funds are available. These declarations are important because they are needed to access federal funds. 

The following eleven counties have been granted to: Bergen, Essex, Gloucester, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Morris, Passaic, Somerset, and Union.

Assessments of Burlington and Monmouth counties took place on September 8th, and we are still awaiting the results. 

Why is this important? Well, you could be eligible for federal funds to assist you if you were impacted by Ida and qualify. Please see below to find out if you might qualify. 

How much assistance has been designated so far?

FEMA has many programs, but the two broad categories are FEMA’s Individuals and Household Program (or IHP) and the Public Assistance Program.  

opens in a new windowIndividuals and Household Program provides: “ opens in a new windowfinancial and direct services to eligible individuals and households affected by a disaster, who have uninsured or under-insured necessary expenses and serious needs. IHP assistance is not a substitute for insurance and cannot compensate for all losses caused by a disaster. The assistance is intended to meet your basic needs and supplement disaster recovery efforts.”

IHP Assistance is particularly important for folks without insurance, including many renters, and may include:

The Public Assistance Program allows the designated counties to apply for emergency work and repair or replacement of facilities damaged by the disaster. All NJ counties are eligible to apply for the Public Assistance program.

What should I do if I am in one of the declared disaster areas and need assistance in my owned home or a property I rent?

  1. If you have one – file with your homeowner’s insurance (and flood if you have a policy) first. Even if you don’t have flood insurance, something like a sump pump may be covered by your homeowner’s policy (see insurance section below). 
  2. Next, apply for FEMA’s IHP Assistance. See more information here

opens in a new windowGrants can top out around $30k, but they are usually around $5k. These loans are designed to help get the roof back over your head, and they are not a long-term solution. opens in a new windowFEMA is a piece of the disaster recovery puzzle, and it is not meant to be the entire solution. 

INSURANCE (Homeowners and Renters):

If you were flooded in the storm, and didn’t have flood insurance – you may have just learned the hard way that homeowners insurance or renters contents insurance does not cover flooding.  Now – there may be other aspects of storm damage that they will cover.  For example after Sandy they covered roof damage in some instances and other kinds of damage, and it is clearly stated here in FEMA’s own brochure that homeowners insurance will cover sump pump failure opens in a new window(See page 11-8 and 11-9 for that information.)  So it is 100% still worth talking to your broker and insurance about what aspects of storm damage they will cover – but chances are if you were flooded you’ll still need more help.  

If you’re not in a flood zone, you may not have realized you could get flood insurance.  And as a renter no one may have ever told you about flood contents.  But BOTH renters and homeowners can purchase flood insurance – though it’s a little complicated, getting insurance through the NFIP means your community also has to participate.    

IF you flooded and didn’t have flood insurance – you’ll probably need to rely on FEMA, grants, and community/charitable organizations for additional aid.  See more about that above.  

opens in a new windowSo for non-flood insurance coverage – contact your broker, your insurance agent, do your best.

For Flood Insurance Holders

Flood insurance covers both the building *and* the contents for homeowners, but you have to have additional contents coverage and in many cases people don’t realize they need that in addition.   

Know that after Superstorm Sandy, the NFIP systematically underpaid claims to the point that our Congressional representatives forced them to re-open *all* Sandy claims and an additional millions in claims.  So.  Don’t take a settlement that seems lower than you deserve! 

First things first you’ve called the NFIP, they’re sending out an adjuster (that info is available on our tips blog).  If your flooding was in your basement – it might be a little complicated.  We’re already hearing some stories of people with ground level apartments and flood insurance getting different responses – so it’s important that you push.  Again, please check this out, pages 11-8 and 11-9 for FEMA’s own description of what is covered in a basement.  

If you don’t like what your NFIP adjuster comes back with – you have a couple options.  

You do not have to accept their offer. Your 2nd option is to hire a Public Adjuster. In our experience, they will take 6-10% of any additional monies they win for you. Some people have success with that route. 

Final option is to file suit against your insurance company using an attorney. Rates are typically 1/3 of the settlement they win for you.

In some cases, you can cash a check, or an advance payment from insurance and still contest their offer. Check with your broker or adjuster about this if this is what you plan to do.   

Sometimes a check goes to you directly, sometimes your bank.  Some folks can get that money easily from their mortgage holder, in the past others have struggled.  Reach out to your local elected officials or Congressperson for help if you are getting a hassle from your bank.  

Should I go buy items I lost before getting my insurance check and/or FEMA grant/aid? 

Well, that really is a personal choice. There is not one “right” answer. 

Here are two different examples from Sandy Survivors with two different outcomes. 

Danni’s Story: 

We lost our washer and dryer during Sandy. The insurance adjuster had already been to the house, we had taken pictures of all of our losses, and we also had a list of all of the makes, models and serial numbers of each item. Since the washer and dryer were two items we felt were essential and we had a ton of dirty items from the clean-up – we decided to go ahead and buy the washer and dryer ahead of receiving our insurance check. Please note, this is a personal choice. We waited on all of our other items, but we felt this was essential to our recovery and sanity. At the time, we were able to spend savings on those items. Our insurance check arrived a month later, and we were able to replace our savings. However, this isn’t always the case.

Joe’s Story: 

After Sandy we were homeless, and the 4 of us and our 2 cats were living in a small bedroom at a friend’s house.  I foolishly thought I could get us back to living in our gutted home in 6-8 weeks.   We spent our entire savings on replacing the heating system, electric and plumbing.  I kept expecting our flood insurance money to arrive any day.  It didn’t come, not even the advance I had been requesting.   One day I got a letter from the flood insurance company stating that I needed to submit the paperwork I’d already submitted twice again to get an advance.  Then I could expect payment in another 6 weeks.  This was a devastating blow.

I came to the harsh realization that all the money we had in the world was what was in my pocket at that moment.  No money to rebuild.  No money for rent. No money to pay the mortgage.  This became a defining moment for me because now instead of helping others I was the one that needed help and I had to ask for it.  Thankfully I got it from a local organization.

SBA Loans:

Often at the same time that FEMA is on the ground and people are applying to FEMA for assistance – there’s an SBA loan table and storm survivors are encouraged to apply for loans.  This is a great resource for many people, and can fill in gaps for un or underinsured families and provide an immediate infusion of resources.  Interest rates are typically very low, and the SBA often tries to work with families to adjust repayment plans to help as disaster recovery continues.  

SBA loans are available for families and small businesses.  

Here’s the catch.  If you get an SBA loan, and then later on grants are available (see below as to why grants would be available later, not at the same time as your SBA loan) you may not qualify for the full, or any, grant amount.  

That is an un-ending frustration for disaster survivors nationwide – we are working to provide some fixes for Sandy families who had clawbacks (see below) because of this and Louisiana has tried to work on legislative fixes too, but currently there is no fix. 

In some instances, our members applied for the SBA loan but didn’t accept it – which is one strategy.  But, if you can’t wait to see what grants are coming and you need help now – you might not have that option.  

Grants will be available:

We’re updating programs and assistance we hear about over here. 

Some grants may be available immediately through community organizations, or faith-based organizations.  Again connect with your local elected officials, keep reading the local paper, and look out for resources. 

And then, New Jersey will likely roll out grants and recovery programs – but not right away.  Why?  Because Congress appropriates funding for disasters each time one happens – like we don’t have a standing fund we can draw from.  So Congress may or may not act quickly to appropriate funds.  After Sandy because of regional and party politics aid wasn’t appropriated until nearly 3 months later – which meant families had to wait extra long for relief.  

This process is different in every disaster, but Sandy was Oct 29 2012, the NJ grant programs were announced May 24th 2013.  And the intention of these grant programs was to satisfy “unmet needs,” i.e. financial needs not met by other public or private funding sources like FEMA, SBA loans, or insurance.  Often taking these grants means for example, you have to carry flood insurance moving forward.  

When we get news about these grant programs – we’ll update you.  Make sure you’re on our action list.  

You should just know about clawbacks:

We hate to have to tell you this, but better you know and can keep THE WORLD’S BEST RECORDS in hopes that if this ever happens to you you’re more prepared than we were! 

We call them clawbacks, the state and federal government calls them “recoupments,” but either way – they can come back to you and tell you that you owe them money back even if you think you did everything they told you to do.  

Here’s what we experienced – again every disaster is different – but just heads up. 

FEMA clawbacks:  

So you fight your way through the process, and you get a check or some aid from FEMA.  They *can* – we’re not saying they will, but just that they *can* come back to you and say you didn’t use the funds properly, or that they were a “duplication of benefits,” but either way they can ask for them back.  It’s often possible to reduce the amount of money you owe FEMA, but sometimes you still have to pay it back.  

Just know this, and keep super good records and receipts of the funds you spent.  

State Grant (CDBG-DR) clawbacks:

The grant programs the state will roll out eventually can also be clawed back.  About 20% of Sandy families have faced clawbacks of some kind.  It can range from a couple thousand dollars to over a hundred thousand dollars and is incredibly challenging for storm survivors to recon with.  

Again, just know this.  If something seems off, or too easy, or you’re not getting the information you need from a relief worker – keep asking.  And again, keep super good records and receipts of the funds you spent.  

We act together for full and fair storm recovery.  Join us. 

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