Applying for FEMA winter storm aid? Here’s how the agency’s virtual inspections work.

Pandemic has halted all in-person disaster damage inspections for the foreseeable future

Spring may be here, but the harsh memories of winter are still very real for some South Texans. Winter storm damage was widespread across the state and in Bexar county, and people who are uninsured or underinsured are reaching out to FEMA for aid.
Spring may be here, but the harsh memories of winter are still very real for some South Texans. Winter storm damage was widespread across the state and in Bexar county, and people who are uninsured or underinsured are reaching out to FEMA for aid.

SAN ANTONIO – Spring may be here, but the harsh memories of winter are still very real for some South Texans. Winter storm damage was widespread across the state and in Bexar county, and people who are uninsured or underinsured are reaching out to FEMA for aid.

Across 126 eligible Texas counties, FEMA has already granted more than $95 million in home repair assistance.

All of that has been done without inspectors stepping foot in any homes. The pandemic has forced FEMA to adjust the way it does inspections.

“Adapt to ways (inspectors) can provide their services virtually so they can protect both the workforce and the survivors,” said Maria Figueroa, with FEMA Media Relations.

Figueroa said in-person disaster home inspections will be a thing of the past until the pandemic lets up. For now, she said given the amount of money the agency has already dispersed, the system is working.

Figueroa said people can apply for FEMA assistance online or by phone if their insurance didn’t cover all damages or if they don’t have insurance.

Applicants will need to state and be able to prove their home is not in sanitary, functional or safe conditions. Once the application is confirmed, an inspector will be assigned and call the applicant.

“The inspector will ask them questions, and they will be showing the inspector where the damage is related to those essential parts of the household, which are the living room, the kitchen, the rooms, doors, the access points to the house, floors, subfloors, windows, etc.,” Figueroa said.

When asked how these inspections work for people without Internet service or smartphones, Figueroa said, “If they have access to a (smart) phone, the inspection could be done by phone -- with the inspector guiding them, asking them a series of questions.”

She said if someone does a virtual or phone inspection and is not comfortable with the aid they’re awarded, they can reach out and schedule another inspection to explain or show further damage.

Figueroa is reminding people that FEMA aid does not cover the following:

  • Food loss
  • Insurance deductibles
  • Electricity and water bills.

Once you for disaster assistance, make sure you save the nine digit pin code you are given. You will be asked for that when the inspector contacts you.

“They will ask you for the last four digits of that code, and then they will give you the first four digits of the code,” Figueroa said.

That is how she said applicants can know they’re actually being contacted by FEMA and not a scammer.

To get more information or apply for assistance, visit the FEMA disaster assistance website or call 1-800-621-3362.

To download the FEMA app, use either of the following methods:

• Apple devices - text APPLE to 43362;

• Android devices - text ANDROID to 43362;

• Visit fema.gov/about/news-multimedia/app.

After applying, you may stay on DisasterAssistance.gov to create a personal online disaster assistance account to stay in touch with FEMA. To create one, do the following:

• Click the green Check Status button at bottom of DisasterAssistance.gov.

• Click the blue Create Account button at bottom of page.

• Enter your date of birth and Social Security number, which you provided previously when applying for assistance.

• Answer four security questions that are generated from public record data to verify your identity.

• Create a user ID and password.

• Enter an email address. FEMA will send a temporary PIN to it within 24 hours. Follow the instructions in the email to finish creating your account.

Texans who apply for federal assistance must be able to prove they lived in the disaster-damaged primary residence before the storms. The documents that can prove occupancy are:

  • Utility bills dated within three months before the disaster
  • Electric, gas, oil, trash, water/sewer bills that show the name of the applicant or the co-applicant and the address of the disaster-damaged residence.
  • Merchant’s statement dated within three months before the disaster
  • Employer’s statement, which must be dated within 3 months before the disaster
  • A lease/housing agreement that was in place at the time of the disaster
  • Bank or credit card statement, phone bill, cable/satellite bill, etc. that shows the name of the applicant or the co-applicant and the address of the disaster-damaged residence.
  • Pay stubs and similar documents that show the name of the applicant or the co-applicant and the address of the disaster-damaged residence.
  • Copy of a written lease, housing agreement or landlord’s written statement that includes the name of the applicant or co-applicant, the landlord’s contact information, and the basic terms of tenancy, including the location of the damaged home, the amount of rent and duration of the lease. This is to confirm that the applicant lived there at the time of the disaster. Both the landlord and the applicant or co-applicant must sign the document.
  • Rent receipts dated within three months before the disaster
  • Public official’s statement dated within the 18-month period of assistance.
  • Driver license, state-issued ID card or voter card that reflects the name of the applicant or co-applicant and the address of the damaged residence. These documents must be current at the time of the disaster.
  • Copy of a rent receipt or bank statement, including a canceled check, that shows the name of the applicant or co-applicant, the landlord’s contact information, the address of the pre-disaster home, the amount of rent, and the landlord’s signature.
  • A written statement from an official (a police chief, mayor, postmaster, etc.) that includes the name of the applicant or co-applicant, the residence address, the period of occupation, and the name and contact information of the official

About the Authors:

Courtney Friedman is a KSAT anchor and reporter. She has an ongoing series called Loving in Fear, confronting Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She's also covered Hurricane Harvey, the shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe, and tornadoes throughout Texas. She’s a California native and proud Longhorn who loves calling SA home.