People affected by earthquakes in the southwestern area of the Island who, for some justified reason, were unable to apply for assistance to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) would still have an opportunity to do so. Despite the fact that the term for that has already officially expired, submitting a late application, as explained by attorney Emily Colón Albertorio, who works on a project to assist people with applications to FEMA.
The lawyer explained that last 2 of July expired the term people had to submit their request for individual assistance to FEMA. The original period was from December to February, but then with the aftershocks it was left open in May. While an extension could be requested for that program, the people in government in charge of doing it did not do so and the term expired.
According to official figures provided by FEMA, the agency received 41,658 requests for earthquake-related assistance , from 33 municipalities. Of that total, 40,106 were registered as valid.
FEMA, which still works in Puerto Rico with countless issues related to recovery after Hurricanes Irma and Maria of 2017, added that it has approved some $ 60 million in assistance for people affected by the earthquakes that started last December.
Despite the fact that the period to request assistance officially ended, Ms. Colón clarified that "we are in a period of 60 days for late applications for just cause."
He explained that there are many situations that could be considered “just cause”, such as not having or not having access to the internet, which is the main means that FEMA is using for its requests; not have had a nearby FEMA center; or that the COVID-19 pandemic has had health or safety problems.
"If the person needs help to justify their situation, we can help them start that process," said Colón. “At the Institute of Practical Education of the College of Lawyers of Puerto Rico we have a telephone line where we can freely assist people to submit their request for individual assistance.”
Primera Hora asked FEMA about a possible claim late, and the agency confirmed that “an applicant has the right to submit a late application, with documentation explaining why they did not apply in the period of time they were prepared to register.”
The lawyer indicated that they can also assist in cases in which the request has been denied, to submit a request for reconsideration or appeal.
The telephone number to contact the lawyers at the Institute of Practical Education is 939-545-4550, Monday through Saturday, from 9:00 am at 5:00 p.m.
He clarified that there are cases of denial that respond to "errors that are rectifiable". As an example, he said that "we are seeing people in Guánica who are denying the request because the address in the title does not coincide with the electricity bill."
"What happens in these cases is that this is an automated system and FEMA is carried away by the information that is in its database, and if it does not coincide, then a flag for a possible denial already begins there. But that is something known and rectifiable ”, he assured. “If you call us, we can help you with that. That problem of the mismatched address can be remedied. There is even a form for that. "
The attorney clarified that problems like this are not unique to Puerto Rico, and that they have also occurred in Texas and Louisiana, to name two examples.
To streamline the process, Colón recommended that those who contact the Institute for help have the following documents on hand: if you already have an application with FEMA, have that letter on hand to know the reasons for the denial; the FEMA application number; if the denial is a matter related to the insurance that the property has, have the insurer and the cover at hand.
As Colón explained, the experience they have had assisting people in this process is that many people have difficulties because their I'm sure he's denying you cover. It also happens that FEMA considers that the damages suffered are "insufficient" to receive some type of assistance.
At the point of what is considered sufficient damage or not, Colón raises the concern that the area is still under the effects of the swarm of earthquakes that started last December; that now with the pandemic, FEMA inspectors are doing remote inspections, over the phone; Many people don't even have the internet or a smartphone to do the paperwork with FEMA, and many have been unable to go to the call centers. All of the above, he stressed, makes it much more difficult for applicants and FEMA to complete the process.
To questions from Primera Hora, FEMA explained that “the highest percent of denials were due to the fact that the house is considered safe for occupy it. ”
However, the agency also confirmed that“ the applicant has the right to appeal any decision by FEMA. ”
Colón maintained that, with all this complicated scenario, they are doing their best to assist people to make the claim process with FEMA, so that the most satisfactory results can be achieved for all involved.
“So what we are doing and want to share is helping them. Guide them on what questions they can ask them, the information they ask you, such as their name, if they lived on the property when the earthquakes occurred, how many people live on the property, whether they own the property or are rented (if it is rented , it is the owner who has to claim), "explained the lawyer.
Colón stressed that another complication for many applicants is when describing the damage, since FEMA inspectors have to enter into countless technical aspects of the housing, such as size, footage, number of floors, if it has more than one ceiling (a ceiling or false ceiling), if it has beams in the floor, if it is built on a slope.
“There are many details technicians to report, so that the claim can increase the value, "he said.
Colón noted that many of the people who have attended, over 40%, are people over 60 years," many elderly, many people who live alone and don't have other aid. ”
He insisted that with the hurricane season ahead, that concern for people who need assistance is even greater. In fact, the area was hit last week by the rains and winds of tropical storm Isaías.
“So we recommend that you call. We have attorneys available most of the time. If the call falls on ‘voice mail’, leave your number and we will call you back. He will be attended by lawyers trained in disaster aspects, "he insisted.
" Again, many of the situations are rectifiable. Things with titles, addresses, are rectifiable and can be done within 60 days. If you were denied because of that, we can do it, we will justify it, we can assist you, and there is still time. So call as soon as possible, "insisted the lawyer, reiterating that the help they offer is free of cost, since it is a project subsidized by the Access to Justice Fund Foundation and the Hispanic Federation.