Wednesday, January 04, 2006


A cool evening in New Orleans. The wife fixed another wonderful meal, we ate and laughed and I enjoyed an Abita Beer.

And now I must fill out the FEMA paperwork.

But I’m not complaining.

I mean, you can’t expect the government to just fork over money without some checks and balances, right? Just because your house got sloshed and your stuff is now one big mold farm exhibit, you don’t really think that automatically means you need aid, do ya?

So you have to gather receipts and keep track of expenditures. You start a file of insurance correspondence and NGO donations.

I’m not complaining, really.

Several weeks ago I spoke to someone at FEMA about getting rental assistance. Sure I have insurance, and lots of it. But there’s no “Loss of Use” coverage on the federal flood policy. That kind of coverage is only available as part of homeowner’s insurance.

And when your house floods, that coverage remains untouchable in plain view, like fine jewelry behind a thick glass display window.

The FEMA lady was very nice and explained the application process step by step, including the Housing Assistance Rejection letter they would be sending me.

Come again?

Yes, she kindly told me, everyone will get a letter that says their request for Housing Assistance is denied. This same letter will explain how to appeal this decision, which she encouraged me to do because I’m probably eligible.

I’m sure it makes sense to some bureaucratic wonk somewhere. But really, I’m not complaining.

The other day we got the rejection letter in the mail. “Good news!” I said to the wife. I had to explain to her that getting turned down was progress in the FEMA scheme of things. It’s much like a teenage girl making out. Sometimes, “No” can mean “Yes.”

All I had to do now was write a letter, attach all supporting documentation, send it in and wait for another letter.

But really, I’m not complaining.

“Dear FEMA,

“Thank you for rejecting my request for Housing Assistance! We were thrilled to get your letter. We really appreciate your interest in the plight of our family.

“Let’s recap: Our house is toast. We’ve already spent the $2,358 for housing assistance you sent to us in September. In fact, since Hurricane Katrina, we’ve spent more than $6,750 just on rent and emergency expenses. We’re sure we will continue have uninsured, storm-related housing expenses for the foreseeable future. Any help here would be appreciated.

“Be a pal, FEMA, and let us know what you can do for us, if anything. And don’t be such a stranger!


But seriously, I’m not complaining.

They were kind enough to send me a quick claim form, too. I was asked to provide some basic personal information and to declare, under penalty of perjury, “I have a continuing need for Housing.”

I guess there must be some folks who don’t have a continuing need for housing. Those folks might be homeless and might want to remain so. But that’s not me. And I guess FEMA wants to weed out the homeless. I don’t know why.

Look, I’m not complaining. Really, I’m not.

I’m glad FEMA is rigorously screening all applicants, even those of us from parts of the city where every single house got 7 feet of water. I’m happy to know that FEMA has created a counterintuitive process to test the will of those seeking aid. I’m pleased they’re sorting out the homeless, and I’m really glad they want me to prove that I don’t have insurance coverage that’s not even offered and that I’m really living in a different place now that my home is uninhabitable.

Seriously. I’m NOT complaining.



Mark said...

I don't know how I've missed your blog so far, but let me say, great work. I've added you to my own list of must follow New Orleans/Katrina blogs. I invite you to visit, and if you enjoy what you read, to ask you if you would consider adding my blog to your own list. Thanx. Keep up the good work.

Polimom said...

Thank goodness you were rejected! I mean... imagine if they were to approve the Housing Assistance. People might then be able to accuse FEMA of falsely encouraging hope - or even of thinking something makes sense! (Gods forfend!) Much better this way - keeps everybody guessing.

Of course one shouldn't complain. It is, after all, the government... and they're here to help!


Excellent post, though!

Sophmom said...

Don't get me started. My fellow applied for rental assistance because we had to pay his rent down there or lose his (high and dry) apartment (this includes September rent), the cost of which was to be covered by his FAFSA grants/loans (that we were, of course, about to get when the storm hit). After many circles around the FEMA block, we received a letter stating that he had "voluntarily withdrawn" his claim, which, of course, he had not. We're still waiting, but remain hopeful. *sigh*

Great post. I'm putting a link to you in my sidebar.

teach99 said...

What is your opinion on the people in hotels... in, say, TX who have lived there for a while and soon will not have the bill paid by the Gov.? As I said in my other post, I have mixed feelings. (at least I think I said that)

[ this is jerry ] said...

After some cannoodling a rep on the phone said "Every time you call, your name gets pushed to the bottom of the stack."

I didn't call at all and assistance came quickly. A friend of mine called every day and just got his assistance two weeks ago.

Waiting sucks. =(

Tim said...

Markus, Merci, et vive la Nouvelle Orleans!

Tim said...

Polimom and Sophmom, I keep reminding myself of what Ben Franklin said, "Small strokes fell great oaks." So just keep nagging FEMA and eventually, hopefully, we'll get the aid we need and deserve.

Tim said...

teach99, I hate to see all those people stuck in hotel rooms--it's not good for them or the taxpayers. But they will stay until they have someplace to go. FEMA promised travel trailers and is not delivering. Perhaps they can't deliver, and perhaps they should have been honest up front and said so. The bottom line is that many people have their lives on "hold" waiting to see what happens before they take the next step. I myself asked FEMA over and over if I would qualify for rental assistance and if so, how much. I needed to know this before I signed a lease on an apartment so that I could know what I could or could not afford. So I could not wait any longer and I took an apartment that is costing more than I care to admit. I'm out on a limb right now hoping the social safety net will catch me if I fall. Hoping.