FEMA payouts lower than expected for some earthquake damaged homes
Some disappointed homeowners say they're not getting the earthquake assistance they'd hoped for from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
President Trump authorized the federal disaster declaration from the Nov. 30 earthquake on Jan. 31, 2018, allowing FEMA to distribute assistance grants up to $34,900. Some homeowners say the amount they've received is considerably less than that.
Ryan Manzek is one of them. The foundation of his Sand Lake home sank up to 6 inches during the quake. Manzek has contractor's estimates of over $200,000 to restore his home to pre-earthquake condition. He said it could cost nearly half that much to simply fix the foundation.
His grant from FEMA was just over $4,300.
"About 25 of us neighbors were all in the same boat and I was the first one to get the notice of what I was going to receive and I was shocked," Manzek said.
He has organized with neighbors and others who've had damage in an effort to cut costs and get accurate information. He said he's heard similar stories of FEMA grants that were much smaller than the actual bills.
FEMA spokesman Jack Heesch said the federal aid will only go so far.
"We aren't the insurance company," Heesch said. "What we will do is help make someone's home safe, secure and habitable, so they can live in that home and affect their own recovery."
Heesch said it's unusual for FEMA to ever give out the maximum grant, noting that during hurricanes in the Lower 48 over the last two years, the average FEMA grant was $5,000.
Manzek said he thinks that's part of the problem; the agency is used to evaluating hurricane and flood damage, and not the effects of an earthquake.
"[Federal inspectors] kept reiterating, 'Do you have plumbing or insulation or electrical damage?' I'm like, no. Pretty much our house sank six inches or more so we have more foundation and slab damage," Manzek said. "We can still live in the house but we are tilted."
FEMA's Heesch said people who have been denied coverage or have received a smaller than expected grant can appeal. He recommends looking carefully at the letter FEMA sends homeowners which could state documentation that was missing or provide other clues about why payments were low. He also said people can go to one of the new Disaster Recovery Centers in Eagle River or Wasilla to speak with an applicant assistant about the next steps they should take.
Manzek is taking it a step further. He's already appealed the FEMA grant and is waiting to hear what the state will provide. He's also sending his concerns, along with documentation, to the governor and Alaska's congressional delegation and encouraging others to do the same.
Manzek said he is getting positive responses, particularly from Sen. Dan Sullivan's office. He's hopeful that lawmakers will be able to intervene and change the way that FEMA assesses damage after an earthquake, as well as award higher grants, in the future.
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