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What does FEMA cover? If you're denied help after floods, here are some other options

Posted at 1:55 PM, Jul 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-22 11:53:32-04

(WXYZ) — Less than a week after President Joe Biden's disaster declaration for the June floods across metro Detroit, people are already hearing back from FEMA. And some are getting disappointing news.

They do not qualify for disaster assistance.

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Local families say they are devastated and running out of options when it comes to looking for help.

“Why deny us assistance when we do need it,” asks Aaron Sexton, a Garden City resident.

Sexton is a father of seven. They were excited to fill out their FEMA application.

But days later, the Sextons checked their status and their Garden City home was not approved.

"They said that we were denied because we had a rider attached to our insurance that covers sewer backup/water damage,” said Julie Sexton.

She’s not alone, her neighbor Josette Buendia was also denied.

"Because I had the home owners insurance rider that provided for a sewer backup,” she said.

Do I qualify for FEMA assistance?

Her basement was impacted after the heavy rainfall. Her furniture, washer and dryer, and furnace were sitting in over a foot of water.

"The amount of damaged that we suffered is tremendous,” said Buendia. "Oh, it’s well over 50-thousand dollars.”

She says finding someone to clean and sanitize her basement maxed out the money her insurance company gave her, which is only $5,000.

Michigan resident denied FEMA assistance

During a Detroit City Council meeting, the Council President Pro Tem Mary Sheffield mentioned similar concerns.

“I know we have issues with people who have been denied FEMA, because of their income limits. And trying to figure out what to do because their insurance doesn't cover the cost,” said Sheffield.

We reached out to FEMA and a spokesperson says, “if individuals reported insurance coverage for their home damage, they may be ineligible for federal assistance because FEMA cannot pay for damage covered by insurance or duplicate benefits from another source.”

FEMA says applicants can reach back out to them if their insurance settlement is insufficient or if their insurance claim denies their claim and FEMA can reconsider their case.

“Ultimately what happens is, we try to tell people that we are not here to make you whole again. We are here to make you safe and sanitized,” said La-Tanga Hopes, media relations specialist with FEMA.

FEMA also wants people to understand that every case is different.

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"In each case we will decide what amount may be facilitated for each individual. Everyone's home may not have the same amount of damage," said Hopes.

They do not cover damage to non-essential space.

This father says the space that was denied is very essential.

"Our basements finished, it’s bedrooms. We have seven children. Three of them live down there,” said Aaron Sexton.

He says they’ve drained their savings and still have about $7,000 worth of work to get done. There is another option for families who are need of immediate funding:
the Small Business Administration.

They are also helping homeowners, renters, nonprofit organizations.

"SBA disaster loans are for your uncompensated loses. Whatever your insurance doesn’t cover," said Julie Garrett, spokesperson for the Small Business Administration.

They have a recovery center set up in Dearborn Heights where they are offering people interests rates as low as 1.6 percent.

"Luckily with these loans there is an 18-month payment deferment,” said Garrett.

Garrett says they are working closely with FEMA.

"FEMA might say, 'go to SBA and apply for a disaster loan. If FEMA tells you to apply, please do so, because if you don’t, you stop moving through the FEMA process,” she said. “If your loan application is denied, SBA refers you back to FEMA for additional grant consideration.”

If a loan is out of the question, homeowners can also file a claim with the water department in their city.

Courtesy FEMA

"If my sewer line was broken, DWSD ,line, and there was a defect in the system, you will be made whole by the water department, but I can tell you that 10% of people that file the claims,” said Gary Brown, director of the Detroit Water and Sewage Department.

"If FEMA can’t help, if the City of Detroit can’t help. If Garden City can't help ...," said Buendia.

She wants to know where to turn to.

"We got to keep fighting for our family and I encourage everyone to do the same," said Aaron Sexton.

If you disagree with FEMA decision you do have 60 days to appeal. If you need additional help with resources, you can call United Way's 2-1-1 line.