FEMA to Review Homeowners’ Applications Affected by Dolly

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BROWNSVILLE – Long overdue money could be on its way to several Rio Grande Valley families. A federal judge ruled money due since Hurricane Dolly must be sent to cover repair for thousands of homes.

An estimated 24,000 families were denied help for their damaged home when Hurricane Dolly hit eight years ago. A homeowner shared her experience when the storm hit and her struggles to get her home fixed.

A small corner protected Agustina Iglesias and her five children during Hurricane Dolly.

“The only little place that didn’t flood was this corner, and we were just crying and crying,” she said.

Iglesias said FEMA didn’t help.

“One time when FEMA came over, they saw the beams holding up my roof. They knew how bad my house was,” she recalled.

She was forced to make her own repairs.

“I would buy some material and when I had enough, I would call the repair man to come help me repair something,” she said.

Damage to the home is still visible. Pieces of tile, plywood and a destroyed mobile home act as a reminder to get help.

Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid attorneys like Linley Boone-Almaguer, filed lawsuits against FEMA.

“We had noticed there were various rules and various things we were seeing, such as deferred maintenance, that were not published anywhere. But were being used by inspectors that came down to make decisions about people’s, you know, homes, whether or not they had damage or whether or not they should get the assistance they so desperately needed,” the attorney said.

A federal judge in Brownsville found FEMA violated federal law. Families were discriminated against.

“Even been told that people in the Valley that are low income have homes, maybe made out of second-hand materials, and so you know that they wouldn’t be getting as much money. Because…basically saying since your home wasn’t kept up like it should have been, even though a storm hit your house and you had no control over that at all, and now your roof is caving in, we’re not going to help you,” Boone-Almaguer said.

She explained FEMA will look at homeowners’ claims again.

“Now FEMA's basically been ordered to reassess our clients applications which are our named plaintiffs and basically any number of members LUPE, who's also client La Union de Pueblo Entero; which can be up to seven thousand people,” she said.

FEMA’s inspection policy will have to change.

"This is just a very recent decision. FEMA is going to have to set out a standard or a way that they’re going to go back and reassess these applications. And in the amount that people would get, would be based on their actual damages once they make the decision without using the secret rules,” she said.

 Iglesias is relieved help may come her way.

“Well that they keep insisting maybe they can help you, because I insisted and insisted because I needed the help,” she said.

She wants others not to give up.

CHANNEL 5 NEWS reached out to FEMA. They sent us a statement that said in part, FEMA’s office of chief counsel is looking over its options on the court’s decision.

This matter was brought against FEMA in 2008 alleging FEMA failed to comply with its non-discretionary duties in issuing Individuals and Households program regulations establishing eligibility requirements and then applying those requirements fairly and equitably. 

Ultimately, upon review by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, FEMA prevailed on all counts except one.  The matter was remanded back to the District Court for review regarding whether FEMA used unpublished rules when determining potential disaster assistance for homes damaged by Hurricane Dolly. 

The Order issued on February 16, 2017 affirms the District Court’s September 30, 2015, Order requiring FEMA to vacate its “deferred maintenance rule.”  This Order also denies the Plaintiffs’ allegations on several other claims against FEMA.  Finally, the Court has ordered FEMA to reconsider the plaintiffs’ applications for assistance for Hurricane Dolly, in light of the vacated “deferred maintenance rule.” 

FEMA’s Office of Chief Counsel is currently deliberating over its available options related to the Order.


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