NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – If your home was damaged by recent wildfires, you may be eligible for federal disaster assistance. Here’s what you need to know about who can apply and what’s covered.
Federal Disaster Declaration
Given the multiple ongoing fires across the state, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham recently asked the federal government to declare a “disaster.” With President Biden’s endorsement signature, Wednesday, May 4, the declaration of disaster releases federal aid funds for some affected New Mexicans.
This funding comes from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which is part of the Department of Homeland Security. Under the direction of the President of the United States, FEMA can identify the needs of a damaged community and provide federal funds to help residents recover and return to their homes after a disaster.
And usually the declaration of emergency comes after a natural disaster. But in the case of the fires in New Mexico, the president has authorized federal funding even while the fires are ongoing. Recently, the governor announced that several FEMA disaster personnel would be assisting in New Mexico, arriving in communities across the state.
The first teams arrived May 6 in Ruidoso and Glorieta, assisting families affected by the McBride Fire and the Hermits Peak Calf Canyon fires, respectively. Since then, other teams have arrived. “FEMA personnel are on site, on site in Lincoln, Sandoval, San Miguel and Taos counties,” the governor said May 10.
So homeowners and renters who lost property to certain fires in New Mexico are now eligible for federal stimulus funds. But there are certain stipulations as to who can receive funds.
How much money is available?
FEMA funds may include cash to help pay for temporary housing and home repairs, according to FEMA. There may also be access to low interest loans from the Small Business Administration to help with the loss of uninsured property.
For FEMA funds, the amount available generally depends on the cost of the damage. To find out exactly what you are entitled to, you must apply to FEMA. For recent catastrophic fires, there is also a one-time payment of $500 to cover immediate needs, or $500 per eligible affected household.
FEMA assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-interest loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster.
As of May 10, 2022, more than 180 individual requests for assistance have already been approved, according to FEMA’s website. Over $23,000 in housing assistance and $96,000 in assistance for other needs has been approved.
“There will be enough help for anyone who is eligible and applies for help during the application period,” says FEMA Media Specialist Carmen G. Rodriguez Diaz. “It is not a first-come, first-served principle. Even if a person submits their application on the last day of the registration period, they will receive the assistance for which they are qualified.
Certain eligible areas
As of May 6, 2022, FEMA reporting covers five counties in New Mexico. Thus, only people from Colfax, Lincoln, Mora, San Miguel and Valencia counties are potentially eligible. You can also check if your home is in the eligible area by entering your postal code in the federal website DisasterAssistance.gov.
But to process the funds, FEMA workers may need to conduct damage assessments, where they check what property was destroyed by the fires. Of course, they can’t do that where there are ongoing fires.
If you have home insurance
FEMA Funding only covers costs not already covered by home or tenant insurance. So if you have insurance, you should file a claim with your insurance company as soon as possible, according to FEMA’s press release.
“The overall program, as defined by law, does not actually allow us to duplicate benefits, which includes the insurance benefit,” says Sandy Eslinger, the FEMA coordinator helping in New Mexico. “If you have insurance, go ahead and submit your insurance claim. This does not necessarily mean that you are not qualified for FEMA assistance. »
So be sure to file a claim with your insurance company and then seek help from FEMA.
To see if you qualify and to access funds, you must contact FEMA. You can register online at assistancecatastrophe.gov or by phone at 800-621-3362. Once there, you will create an account where you will submit information and also receive information about your support.
If you are in a disaster area where there are FEMA workers on the ground, you can also connect with them. There are multilingual support teams in affected communities in New Mexico, according to a recent press release. They can help you register.
“You need to register,” Governor Lujan Grisham says. “None of this is available on the federal effort unless you are registered.”
To register, you will need a few things:
- A current phone number (a number you can be reached at, not one in a damaged house)
- Your address during the fire and the address of your current accommodation
- Your social security number (if you have one)
- a list of what was damaged or lost
- The policy number and insurance company name of any insurance you already have if you are insured
If you are not a U.S. citizen, noncitizen, or qualified alien, you may still be eligible for funding if you are the guardian of a minor who is a citizen, according to FEMA. If they reside with you, you can apply using their social security number.
The damage list should help you answer questions like, “Is the house habitable?” explains Carmen G. Rodriguez Diaz of FEMA. “Take your time and take a walk (it can be an imaginary walk) around the house, your living room, bedroom, bathroom, garage, etc. Document damage to doors, windows, electrical systems, water systems, solar panels, roof, garage doors, cars, etc. Also let us know if you lose your job due to fires If you are a mechanic and you lose your tools, such as hammers, screwdrivers and other toolkits, document it Textbooks, computers, etc. should also be documented.
If local officials say it’s safe to return to a damaged area, you should take photos of the damage, according to FEMA. Keep all receipts for purchases related to the cleaning process. Also keep receipts for repairs.
What happens after the first registration?
After you apply, FEMA will review your application and see if you are eligible. If your primary residence has been damaged, they can schedule a home inspection to verify the damage. They will contact you to schedule this.
They will also contact you to explain the amount of assistance to which you are entitled. This letter, which will be sent to you by mail or through your online FEMA account, will explain how the funds are to be used. The total amount is determined by comparing your losses with the services available from FEMA. But note that FEMA is not insurance, and you shouldn’t expect FEMA to replace anything that’s been lost.
According to FEMA, federal funds are only intended to make basic repairs to make a home livable again. But you can appeal FEMA’s decision if you don’t agree with their offer within 60 days of getting their offer. For more information on how to appeal, follow this link.
Food, shelter and additional help
In addition to the funds, FEMA is also providing shelter, food and water to those affected. They have resources for 30,000 people, according to a press release.
The American Red Cross is also working with the state to set up shelters. The US Army Corps of Engineers is on site with generators to provide electricity.
For mental health and crisis advice, you can call the Disaster Helpline. Their number is 1-800-985-5990. They are available 24/7 to help people overcome their emotional distress.
Additionally, the United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS) offers tax relief to victims. Good to know: Certain deadlines for filing and paying taxes for certain people are postponed. Generally, the same people who qualify for FEMA assistance may qualify for tax relief. The IRS says it will automatically identify taxpayers located in the covered area. But you can also call the IRS Disaster Hotline for help: 866-562-5227.