Federal aid is available for people affected by heavy rain and flooding that swept through southeast Michigan June 25 and June 26. President Joe Biden earlier this month declared the events a major disaster, unlocking funding for residents of Wayne and Washtenaw counties. 

That assistance may include grants for home repairs and temporary housing, loans to cover uninsured property losses and programs to help individuals and business owners recover from damages, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced this month. 

Hundreds of metro Detroit flood victims have already been met with denials in the two weeks since the federal government opened up FEMA aid. FEMA officials say that an initial “ineligible” letter doesn’t mean residents in Wayne and Washtenaw won’t get help, and are urging applicants to appeal, with the help of staff at local Disaster Recovery Centers. 

Here’s a rundown of what to know about FEMA assistance: 

Who qualifies? 

FEMA assistance is for households that are uninsured or underinsured, and affected by the late June flooding. 

“We cannot make your home whole again. We want it to be safe, secure and habitable or able to function as a home,” said Susan Jensen, with FEMA’s individual assistance program, during a July 23 town hall led by U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn. 

The disaster aid provides limited and nontaxable grants for basic work, through FEMA’s Individuals and Households Program. This may include, for example, funding for furnace repairs or carpet removal, Jensen said. 

For subscribers: Frustrated flood victims in metro Detroit reel from FEMA denials

How do I apply for assistance? 

Individuals and business owners in Wayne or Washtenaw counties can begin applying for assistance by registering online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov, by calling 800-621-3362, or through the FEMA App. People who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have a speech disability and use a TTY call 800-462-7585.

The toll-free numbers are open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week. Language assistance is available in: Spanish, Arabic, Creole, Lao, Mandarin, Russian, Samoa and Vietnamese. FEMA says callers should stay on the line if they don’t hear their desired language. 

Even if people reported damages to local officials or spoke to FEMA representatives during preliminary damage assessments in early July, they must still register for assistance.

More: President Biden grants Michigan disaster declaration after June flooding

More: Flood recovery loans from the SBA coming to Wayne, Washtenaw and other businesses

What information do I need to provide? 

FEMA says people should provide the following information when registering: Social Security number; daytime telephone number; a current mailing address and the address and ZIP code of the damaged property; and, if available, private insurance information. People should include as many photos or videos of flood damage as possible in their application.  

Applicants will be given a unique number when they register. That number should be written down and kept handy, FEMA says, adding that anyone who doesn’t have a number is not yet registered.

Is there a deadline to apply for assistance? 

The deadline to apply for disaster assistance is Sept. 13, 2021.

What happens after I register? 

Applicants will receive notification letters from FEMA either by U.S. mail or electronic correspondence. The letter should detail whether someone is eligible, how much assistance they can get, and how to appeal FEMA’s decision if they don’t agree with it. 

If an applicant reports that a home is not livable, sanitary and safe, FEMA may need to perform an inspection of the damaged property. FEMA inspectors will contact applicants. 

Inspectors won’t be entering homes because of the COVID-19 pandemic, FEMA says. Instead, FEMA may conduct remote inspections via Apple FaceTime or Zoom Video to assess damages. They may also arrive on-site and ask for information — photo ID, a list of household occupants and disaster-related damages — and do an exterior inspection.

People will need to show a photo ID and won’t be asked for a Social Security number or bank account information during the inspection process. Inspections are free. 

Translation and ASL interpreters will be available. FEMA inspectors are identified by their official federal photo ID badge.   

If approved, how long will it take to get assistance? How much can a household get? 

FEMA says timelines vary because each case is different. Once a person is eligible, direct deposit to an applicant’s bank account is the quickest way to receive funding. Grant amounts vary as well because each application is reviewed based on specific needs, FEMA says.

How does insurance factor into all of this?

Those who have insurance should still file a claim with their insurance company and then apply for FEMA assistance. FEMA says it can’t aid losses already covered by insurance. However, if insurance doesn’t cover all losses or is delayed, people may be eligible for assistance. 

“All we need to see is that your insurance hasn’t covered all of your losses,” Jensen said. 

Households may need to submit insurance documentation to show FEMA that their insurance coverage falls short of what they need. 

What if I need more help or don’t have internet access? 

People can apply for assistance, scan required documents on-site, and ask questions at the following FEMA Disaster Recovery Centers: 

  • Maplewood Community Center: 31735 Maplewood St., Garden City 48135 
  • Henry Ford Centennial Library: 16301 Michigan Ave., Dearborn 48126
  • Kemeny Recreation Center: 2260 S. Fort St., Detroit 48217
  • Eton Senior Recreation Center: 4900 Pardee Ave., Dearborn Heights 48125

FEMA centers are open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week. Go to https://bit.ly/drclocator for more information about the centers and document drop-off locations. 

The Detroit Public Library’s mobile libraries will be making stops in Detroit neighborhoods hit hard by flooding and providing internet access. People can file claims with the Detroit Water and Sewage Department, Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) and FEMA. Library staff will be available to help. 

For a list of stops, go to https://bit.ly/detroitlibraryflood.

What if I’m denied? Can I appeal a final decision? 

If you get a letter saying you’re ineligible or that your application is incomplete you can complete the application of appeal within 60 days of receiving the letter. 

A denial letter isn’t a “hard no,” Jensen said, adding that it may be that FEMA needs more information from an applicant. There are many reasons people receive an initial denial, she said. 

“It could be because you indicated that you had insurance, if you self registered,” she said. “There might have been a question that you didn’t answer. For example, the level of damage. If we show that you have no damage, you will be denied. You may not have been able to prove ownership, occupancy, or maybe you failed our ID verifications. Those are all things that are easily remedied.”

Applicants can appeal up to three times, FEMA says. To learn more about the appeals process, go to https://bit.ly/appealprocessfema. 

What other aid is available? 

The Small Business Association is offering low-interest loans for businesses and residents affected by late June flooding. 

Businesses and private nonprofit organizations may borrow up to $2 million, and up to $200,000 for homeowners to repair or replace damaged real estate. Both homeowners and renters are eligible for up to $40,000 for personal property losses. 

Low-income residents can apply for the State Emergency Relief program, or SER, for repairs not covered by their homeowner’s insurance. The lifetime maximum amount of funds available is $1,500 per household. To learn more, go to www.michigan.gov/MIBridges or visit a local MDHHS office. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday said $10 million in state general funds would be allocated to the city to Detroit and Wayne and Washtenaw counties to set up grant programs for those who don’t qualify for federal assistance, or still need more help. 

Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency is helping people fill out SER applications and plans to help with FEMA applications soon. Call 313-388-9799 or visit www.waynemetro.org/Programs for more information.

For further flooding help, call the United Way’s 211 service or go to mi211.org.

Free Press staff writer Christine MacDonald contributed to this report. 

Nushrat Rahman covers issues related to economic mobility for the Detroit Free Press and Bridge Detroit as a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. Make a tax-deductible contribution to support her work at bit.ly/freepRFA.

Contact Nushrat: [email protected]; 313-348-7558. Follow her on Twitter: @NushratRSign up for Bridge Detroit’s newsletter. Become a Free Press subscriber. 

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