FEMA Fails to Notify Hurricane Maria Survivors Denied Assistance about New Sworn Statement for Proof of Ownership

The 720 organizations of the NLIHC-led Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition sent a letter on September 14 to FEMA Administrator Brock Long, calling on the Agency to send out a form letter to all Hurricane Maria survivors previously denied Individuals and Households Program (IHP) assistance for land title issues—whether they appealed or not.  DHRC requested that FEMA use the letter to advise those denied assistance to reapply with the new form attached and that the 30-day appeal period not apply to them or prevent them from acting now.

Ayuda Legal Huracán María, Fundación Fondo de Acceso a la Justicia, and Servicios Legales de Puerto Rico—all members of the Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition—worked with FEMA’s Office of Chief Counsel to develop an alternative, proof-of-ownership Sworn Statement for those applying for disaster assistance but without formal title documents.  The new document more accurately reflects probate estate laws on the island, does not require notarization, and was approved by FEMA on August 17.

Although FEMA agreed to reassess denials of appeals from Hurricane Maria survivors and issued a press release about the alternative document, it is not conducting an automatic review of denials for title questions, will not directly notify denied applicants, and will not conduct outreach on the new form—stating it will leave that up to legal aid and nonprofit organizations.

Applicants previously denied must file a formal appeal.  Advocates in Puerto Rico report inconsistent recognition or acceptance of the FEMA-approved Sworn Statement by Disaster Recovery Center staff.  Some—even with the Sworn Statement in hand—are being turned away when there is a prior final denial.

In a letter dated September 5, 2018, Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18) also admonished Administrator Long for applying an inconsistent system of approval and notification of homeowners to changes in its application process.   Representative Maloney stated, “I have recently learned that more than 335,000 applications for disaster assistance funding to rebuild homes have been denied and that more than 43,000 of these cases have been appealed. It is my understanding that the primary reason that these applications have been denied is the lack of proof of homeownership.”

DHRC letter to FEMA Administrator: https://bit.ly/2NlV8qr

Sworn Statement:  https://bit.ly/2p8UQor.

FEMA press release on Sworn Statement:  https://bit.ly/2NfPhTL.

Letter from Congressman Patrick Maloney to FEMA Administrator:  https://bit.ly/2CZzt2x.