The NLIHC-led Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition (DHRC) sent a letter to FEMA Administrator Brock Long on October 19 raising questions about statements made by the FEMA regarding its plans, policies, and processes for notifying survivors of Hurricane Maria from Puerto Rico of a new proof-of-ownership sworn-statement document available to those previously denied assistance through the Individuals and Households Program (IHP).
In FEMA’s October 8 response to a September 14 letter from NLIHC President and CEO Diane Yentel raising due-process concerns, Christopher B. Smith, director of the individual assistance division of the FEMA Recovery Directorate, made some ambiguous claims about which the DHRC has requested clarification.
DHRC members had called on FEMA to send out a form letter to all Hurricane Maria survivors who were previously denied IHP assistance because FEMA had determined they did not possess titles to their properties. The letter would inform survivors of the availability of a new, FEMA-approved, alternative sworn statement designed to help residents prove ownership of their homes in the context of Puerto Rico probate estate laws. The DHRC asked that the letter invite IHP applicants to re-apply for assistance to which they may be entitled—whether they initially appealed or not.
The sworn statement was developed collaboratively by FEMA’s Office of Chief Counsel and DHRC members Ayuda Legal Huracán Maria, Fundación Fondo de Accesso a la Justicia, and Servicios Legales de Puerto Rico. The DHRC requested that FEMA send the new document along with its form letter as a way to encourage those denied assistance previously to reapply. The DHRC also requested that the 30-day appeal period should not apply to previously denied applicants.
Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Edward Markey (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Robert Casey (D-PA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Kamala Harris (D-CA) also sent a letter on August 2 to Administrator Long urging him to broadly publicize the newly approved documentation. “Currently, FEMA has deemed 333,118 IHP applications ineligible,” the letter states. “As a result, more than 10 months after Hurricane Maria, hundreds of thousands of American citizens in Puerto Rico are still waiting for relief.” In a separate letter dated September 5, Representative Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) admonished Administrator Long for applying an inconsistent system of approval and notification of homeowners to changes in its application process.
The DHRC September 14 letter to the FEMA administrator is at: https://bit.ly/2Ct3zJV
The October 8 response from the FEMA Individual Assistance division director is at: https://bit.ly/2PbXEQf
The October 19 DHRC follow-up letter to the FEMA administrator is at: https://bit.ly/2NQOfJ0
The sworn statement is at: https://bit.ly/2p8UQor