Did You Suffer Damage and Losses after the Great Winter Storm?
Helen was not home when the freezing cold storm hit Texas a few weeks ago – she was out of the state, comforting a close friend who had just lost her spouse. She kept up with the news, but it was her daughter’s call that changed everything. “Mom, I’m afraid I have some very bad news. I went to see your house and a pipe burst upstairs; everything is flooded with water . The first floor ceiling collapsed. The entire downstairs, the furniture, and everything else is ruined – just don’t even come home.”
Perhaps you identify with Helen's situation. Her story is one person’s story, but it represents the experience of tens of thousands of people throughout Texas right now. We’ve all seen the pictures in the media. Insurance companies are also bracing themselves —up until now, Hurricane Harvey had been the most expensive disaster. It is estimated that the ice storm of 2021 will end up being much more expensive.
If your home or property was damaged or you sustained other losses due to the weather and/or power outages, the following is some important information you should know:
If you have homeowner's insurance:
You have probably called your homeowner's insurance company by now. If you haven't, you should do also immediately.
1) Take pictures of all the damage before you touch or move anything.
2) It is recommended that you wait for your insurance company to inspect you property before you start repairing. However, if you wish to start repairing, you may do so but, be sure to take lots of pictures and videos! Save all receipts as well. These documents can become extremely important in the future.
Know your insurance policy’s limits, its deductible, and understand that by law, you are required to pay this amount. There is no way to avoid this. Your insurance has the right to request proof that you have satisfied this amount.
Also know what your insurance policy provides for. For example, many are not aware that their insurance policy may provide a temporary housing benefit in the case of a severely damaged home. In regard to loss of property damage, understand there is a difference between an item’s actual value and its full replacement value. Know what your insurance policy provides for.
Once your claims adjuster arrives, they may be able to write you a check on the spot, or get it to you by the end of the day. This is not necessarily the full amount you will receive but will be based on their immediate estimate. If other issues become apparent, they will be taken into consideration. The first check may just be the start.
If, at the end of the claims process, you have reasonable doubts that your insurance company did not pay the appropriate amount, you do have options such as hiring an attorney to look into your claim. If you do not have insurance:
President Biden has approved a major disaster declaration for 77 counties in Texas (as of this writing), so FEMA assistance is now available. The counties include all major metropolitan areas (Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio) as well as others. Eventually, all TEXAS counties may be included. For now, you can find out if your county is included by visiting: https://www.fema.gov/press-release/20210220/president-joseph-r-biden-jr-approves-major-disaster-declaration-texas
FEMA assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster. You can begin applying for assistance by registering online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov or by calling 1-800-621-3362 or 1-800-462-7585 TTY.
- You must be a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national, or Qualified Alien to apply for a cash award from FEMA’s Individuals and Households Program. You must also be a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national or Qualified Alien to be eligible for Disaster Unemployment Assistance.
If you do not meet the criteria above, you may still apply on behalf of your U.S. citizen child, or another adult household member may qualify the household for assistance. You can find more information regarding qualified aliens and other assistance options at: https://www.fema.gov/press-release/20201016/fact-sheet-citizenship-status-and-eligibility-disaster-assistance-fa