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What to Do if You Don't Have Flood Insurance

The government offers grants and loans to help repair and rebuild

Edward Woods takes a break from cleaning up his mother's home, which was destroyed by floodwaters in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Spring, Texas.

David J. Phillip/AP

Federal assistance can be vitally important to homeowners who lacked flood insurance before the storms.

En español | From Houston to Miami, millions of residents are returning to homes and businesses that were flooded by the storms that battered the region. Many of these people will need financial assistance to fix their homes. One source of help is the federal government, which offers aid to repair or rebuild homes, whether the residents did or didn’t have flood insurance before the storms hit.

Homeowners or renters hit hard by Hurricane Harvey or Hurricane Irma may be able to get financial help from the federal government for temporary housing and home repair. Some homeowners may even be able to get low-cost loans to replace their homes.

This assistance can be especially important for those who lacked flood insurance when the disaster struck. A poll by the Insurance Information Institute found that only 12 percent of U.S. homeowners had a flood insurance policy in 2016, down 2 percent from the previous year. Homeowners and renters who hold standard insurance policies are covered for damage from wind, but not from flooding.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides up to $33,000 in housing assistance that can be used for temporary housing and for repair of the owner’s primary residence. Housing assistance is available to anyone regardless of income. (FEMA also offers aid for losses to personal property, vehicle repair or replacement, and moving storage expenses, but this type of aid is dependent upon income.)

Individuals who had flood insurance are still eligible for disaster assistance from FEMA for contents that are uninsured or underinsured by the flood insurance policy. No duplication of benefits is permitted.

Homeowners and renters who receive federal financial assistance for the disaster may be required to purchase flood insurance coverage. According to FEMA, the average flood policy in 2016 cost $700, and the average claim has been more than $31,000.

The goal of FEMA’s housing assistance is to get the home back to safe and sanitary living conditions, not to return it to the condition it was in before the disaster. To get the home back to its previous condition, homeowners can turn to the Small Business Administration (SBA), the largest source of funding in the federal government for the long-term rebuilding of private property damaged in disasters. The SBA provides loans not only to businesses of all sizes but also to homeowners and renters. Homeowners may apply for up to $200,000 from the SBA to repair or replace their primary residence.

Renters and homeowners may borrow up to $40,000 from the SBA to replace personal property such as clothing, furniture, appliances or automobiles that have been damaged or destroyed.

Information on the types of disaster assistance available from FEMA, SBA and other federal agencies, how to apply, and how to check the status of your application can be found at disasterassistance.gov.

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