Disaster Relief- Tropical Storm Irene
The state of emergency declared in Vermont by President Barack Obama on Monday August 29, cleared the way for federal assistance to help the state deal with the immediate destruction wrought by Tropical Storm Irene.
LEGAL ASSISTANCE- If you are facing legal issues because of Irene, call Vermont Legal Aid at 1-800-889-2047 for free advice. Legal Services Law Line has received a grant to fund a full time attorney to help with Irene related legal issues. Also, many Vermont lawyers have volunteered to help low income Vermonters impacted by Irene. If you qualify for help you will be matched with Vermont lawyers volunteering their time. Help can include dealing with insurance claims, home repair contracts, replacement of wills and other documents destroyed in the disaster, and counseling on mortgage foreclosure problems or landlord/tenant issues.
Nine counties in Vermont have been authorized for FEMA Individual Assistance- Addison, Bennington, Caledonia, Chittenden, Orange, Rutland, Washington,Windham and Windsor counties. If you live in one of these counties and were impacted by Irene, you can now register for FEMA assistance online or by phone at 1-800-621-3362. You must register for assistance if you want to receive FEMA help. Registering is the first step in the process.
All 14 Vermont counties are eligible for FEMA public assistance.
First, file an insurance claim. Even if your insurance will not cover the loss, this will help when you need to prove your loss to the IRS or FEMA. File a claim with your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance company and with your car insurance company if your vehicle was damaged.
Second, apply for FEMA assistance. You must register first, then complete the application. FEMA will want to know your insurance information. Keep all of the papers you receive from them. Homeowners may be eligible for Small Business Administration (SBA) loans, but they must first register with FEMA.
Whatever is not covered by insurance or FEMA/SBA assistance is a “casualty loss” which can be deducted from your taxes. The IRS will require documentation of your losses. The loss can be claimed on your 2010 or 2011 tax return. Consult with a tax preparer.
There are three ways to apply.
By phone, call 800-621-3362, TTY 800-462-7585.
Online, go to www.disasterassistance.gov .
Or you can go to a FEMA Disaster Recovery Center. It’s best to register with FEMA by phone or online before going to a disaster recovery center. Have a pen and paper handy when you call to register. For the nearest recovery center, go to: www.fema.gov/drclocator.
To apply for FEMA assistance you will need:
- Your social security number;
- Current and pre-disaster address;
- Current telephone number;
- Insurance information;
- Total household annual income;
- Bank information, including your bank routing number (if you don't have the routing number you can get it online on the Federal Reserve Financial Services website);
- An itemized list of the losses caused by the storm and flooding.
You will need documentation of your losses, including:
- The property itself, if you can keep it until FEMA has completed its investigation;
- Documentation of what you paid for the property, the cost of improvements you made to the property, and its fair market value;
- Documentation of insurance coverage, documentation of insurance reimbursement for your losses, and documentation of denial of coverage for any claims;
- If possible, pictures or videos of the damage to the property.
If you have questions about applying for FEMA help, check out their FAQs online.
FEMA will mail you a copy of your application and a copy of their "Help After a Disaster: Applicant's Guide to the Individuals and Households Program." Read the guide carefully. It may answer most of your questions. You can also look at the FEMA Applicant Handbook online.
If you do not have insurance an inspector should contact you within 10 to 14 days after you apply to set up a time to inspect your damaged home. If you are still unable to get to your home, it may take longer.
If your have insurance you will need to work through your insurance claim first and then provide FEMA with the insurance company's decision letter. For flood damage, FEMA will issue an inspection before receiving a copy of your flood insurance decision letter, so you should register with FEMA and start the process right away if you are dealing with flood damage from Irene. In cases of flooding FEMA will inspect to decide if you qualify for temporary living expenses not covered by flood insurance.
About 10 days after insupection FEMA will decide if you qualify for assistance. If you qualify FEMA will send you a check or deposit funds in your bank account. FEMA will also send you a letter that describes how to use the money.
If FEMA decides you do not qualify for disaster assistance, FEMA will send a letter explaining the decision. You can appeal the decision. Appeals must be in writing within 60 days of the date of the decision.
For more information go to the FEMA disaster assistance website.
You can claim casualty losses for your home, property, vehicles, and some personal property. The amount of the loss must exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income by $100 (Example: AGI of $20,000 x 10% =$2,000, so loss must be greater than $2,100). See a tax preparer for more information.
For a home the best proof is copies of original records. If you do not have your papers, try to get documentation from your real estate agent, your mortgage company, your town’s land records, town property tax records, or your bank. If you lost a vehicle and do not have your bill of sale, try contacting your car dealer or your finance company. Look at your bank records, or contact the Department of Motor Vehicles. If you lost personal property, determine the purchase price by looking at your credit card statements or bank records. Or see if the store who sold you the item has a record of the sale.
To determine the fair market value of your property before the flood, you can check in a few different places. For your home, your mortgage company, your town’s land records, or your insurance company may have a fair market value on file. For your vehicles, try using the online tools at Kelley’s Blue Book (www.kbb.com) or NADA (www.nada.com), or contact your insurance company.
To determine the fair market value of your property after the flood, FEMA and your insurance company will send their own appraisers. You might want to hire your own appraiser to determine the value of your property if you think that FEMA or your insurance company is wrong.
If you cannot get an appraisal and you want to deduct your losses on your taxes, you can also use the cost of repair and cleanup. Just remember that an appraisal is the best proof. Repairs must make the property like it was before the flood, the cost must be reasonable, and the repairs cannot make the property worth more than it was before the flood. You must pay for the repairs and you will need to keep receipts to prove the cost to the IRS.
There may be legal issues related to your losses from the flooding. FEMA and the Vermont Volunteer Lawyer Project have set up a panel of free lawyers who might help with legal issues. Vermont Legal Aid and Legal Services Law Line of Vermont may also be able to be of assistance. Call 1-800-889-2047 for more information.
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