Helping Kentuckians access FEMA awards

In the wake of a disaster, navigating the labyrinthine Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Individual Assistance (IA) program is challenging in the best circumstances.

In regions not prone to frequent disasters, survivors are often stuck advocating for themselves to an understaffed, under-resourced temporary FEMA local office. Applicants in these regions often have little or no experience or background knowledge in “checking all the right boxes” for FEMA. Even worse, FEMA’s advisory council reported in 2020 that the agency’s damage assessment and payout procedures are seriously flawed and contribute to the U.S.’s racial wealth gap.

Imagine being a Kentucky resident with a severely damaged home and facing a FEMA IA application for the first time. Imagine, also, that you are 71 years old and live alone.

SBP Disaster Assistance Program (DAP) client Mary Alice doesn’t have to imagine it; she lived it. A contractor estimated Mary Alice had more than $50,000 in structural damage that was critical to repair for her to live in the home safely. FEMA only gave her about $10,000 to address all her structural repair and rebuilding needs.

In 2022, CDP awarded a grant from the Disaster Recovery Fund to SBP to address Kentucky’s unique needs after the December 2021 tornados through a FEMA appeals program. With support from the grant, SBP’s DAP team was able to craft and file an appeal on behalf of Mary Alice.

DAP assigned one of their highly-trained program associates to work with Mary Alice one-on-one under a responsive, trauma-informed service model to gather the data and documentation needed to make the case that FEMA’s initial damage assessment caused her to be under-awarded. The outcome was an additional $20,834.86 award-on-appeal, bringing her nearly to the maximum award amount.

“I honestly don’t think I could have done that [appealing an initial insufficient award from FEMA] on my own,” Mary Alice told her SBP case manager. “Thank you for being so patient and dealing with FEMA on my behalf.”

She has since been able to repair her home to a safe condition. SBP continued to work with Mary Alice to appeal her initial personal property award so that she could replace essential household items.

SBP’s DAP team has secured more than $500,000 in awards-on-appeal for about 150 Kentucky disaster survivors.

CDP is proud to support SBP’s efforts to help survivors maximize the individual award benefits they’re entitled to, allowing philanthropic recovery dollars to stretch further and shrinking the time between disaster and recovery.

(Photo: Claire Balsley, SBP Director of Disaster Assistance Programs, teaches the fundamentals of disaster assistance to community partners during a Recovery Acceleration Week convening in Hazard, Kentucky. Photo courtesy of SBP.)