Denied hurricane-aid grant? Consider an appeal, says Legal Services

In his first request for federal disaster assistance, an Islamorada man rendered homeless and jobless by Hurricane Irma received a flat denial.

That decision was reversed in December, after an appeal filed by the non-profit Legal Services of Greater Miami identified problems with the initial processing by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The man lived and worked at an oceanfront trailer park that was devastated by the Category 4 hurricane Sept. 10. “The whole park was destroyed,” said Maria Alvarez, an attorney working with the Legal Services.

But when the resident applied for federal relief, he was rejected because he used the address of the park.

The lack of the man’s trailer-lot number triggered the denial as a “duplication of benefits,” Alvarez said. Other park residents had filed using the same address.

Legal Services’ appeal clarified the situation, resulting in the reversal of the denial. “This client was extremely diligent,” Alvarez said, “but it shows there is value in what we’re doing.”

“This was a huge success,” she said. “He now is receiving up to $15,000 in rental assistance, and was able to relocate to one of the new affordable-housing units in the Florida Keys. He also received $5,000 for lost personal property.”

About a half-dozen Keys residents have contacted Legal Services, free to those qualifying under income limits. So far, all requests from the Lower Keys to Key Largo involve FEMA denials or minimal grants.

“Some were denied outright for housing repairs, rental assistance or property losses,” Alvarez said. “Some received money but not very much.”

Appeals have been filed but processing on those applications is continuing.

“One many lived aboard a boat anchored off Big Pine Key. The boat was destroyed and he lost everything,” Alvarez said. “He was denied. That appeal is still pending.”

“People generally want to be honest but often they don’t know what to say,” she said. “Sometimes, the FEMA representatives are not extremely well-trained...

Some decisions seem pretty arbitrary, with people getting thousands of dollars and others in the same situation getting nothing.”

People rejected by FEMA have 60 days to file an appeal.

The agency also can handle insurance-claim appeals for those meeting the income limits but no one in the Keys has submitted an Irma insurance-claim problem to Legal Services, Alvarez said.

“We service the lower-income community, and typically they rent and do not have renter’s insurance,” the attorney said. “Some live in their own mobile homes but any insurance is usually bare-bones, and there is no flood insurance for mobile homes. They’re kind of stuck in insurance purgatory.”

Florida Keys residents interested in Legal Services assistance can submit an application at kiosks at libraries in Key West, Marathon and Key Largo.

Key Largo clinics on available services will be held at the library in Trade Winds Plaza at mile marker 101.4: Wednesday, Feb. 7; March 7, March 14, April 11 and May 9. Register online at www.legalservicesmiami.org; or call 877-715-7464.