United Way, Saint Bernard Project to assist with FEMA appeals

Published 6:07 pm Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Marlisa Harding

Residents still navigating FEMA in response to last fall’s hurricanes have a new resource available to them in United Way of Southwest Louisiana and Saint Bernard Project’s upcoming FEMA Appeals Clinic. The first in-person clinic is planned for Wednesday, April 28, at the Lake Charles Civic Center.

Now that United Way is in the long-term recovery process, its president Denise Durel said the organization recognizes the challenges residents are facing beyond the initial needs of food and shelter.

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“The FEMA appeals process can be difficult to navigate,” she said. “If you were denied or did not receive an award that will repair your home because of a simple misunderstanding or unchecked box, we want to rectify that process.”

Making the most of FEMA funds is of absolute necessity because most community resources or organizations require the complete FEMA process before distributing community funds. “Before they (community members) can come receive the community resources whether through United Way or other founders, that’s part of the steps: You have to apply for FEMA or an SBA grant first. That’s because the community funds should be the absolute last dollars to fill that final gap of what’s needed to make a home safe for someone to return,” she said.

Many community members have faced “FEMA denial after FEMA denial” resulting in tremendous frustration. “We’re understanding that they’re really struggling through the process. And when we look into it personally, it’s the same thing. It’s overwhelming. You can’t find a rhythm to the madness.”

To remedy this, United Way of Southwest Louisiana partnered with the New Orleans-based Saint Bernard Project because of their learned expertise from Hurricane Katrina.

“They have a group of their team here in Southwest Louisiana helping us to rebuild because they’ve been through this,” she said.

The in-person clinics will allow residents to work with a trained FEMA appeal volunteer who will go over all of their FEMA and storm recovery-related documents in preparation for progress. “We’ll have our laptops, scanning, submitting and even re-submitting information that will hopefully begin moving the appeals needle right there for some people on that very day,” Durel said.

“We want them to  receive their maximum allowable grant and we want them to get it sooner rather than later with the fewest appeals as possible.”

Durel said a common misconception is that a FEMA denial means a permanent denial. “But they’re telling us it doesn’t means denial; it means continue. They don’t have enough information. It’s this back-and-forth bantering, so to speak, to get you through the process.”

The non-profit is fully committed to this process with the goal of helping “as many families reach that maximum $36,000 at the end of this,” she said.

While it varies from person to person, Durel said the organization has learned that it takes on average five appeals before reaching the final award ,with up to 60 days between each appeal.

“You don’t want it to take up to 60 days but it can be a very long and drawn-out ordeal. So, we’re trying to shorten that in any way we can. That day we’re going to be hitting that send button as many times as we can directly to FEMA.”

Registration is required for the FEMA Appeals Clinic.  The clinic schedule will be made on a first-come, first- serve basis.

Participants must bring all FEMA letters, documentation and supporting documents to the appointment.

Appointments are limited for Wednesday’s clinic but additional clinics are being organized, Durel said. To register or learn more visit www.unitedwayswla.org/femaclinic.

To become a FEMA Appeals Ambassador for United Way of Southwest Louisiana visit, www.unitedwayswla.org/appealsvolunteer.””

President and CEO of United Way of Southwest Louisiana, Denise Durel. (Rick Hickman/Lake Charles American Press)

Rick Hickman