Flooding and backup victims urged to appeal FEMA denials, file for SBA loans

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published August 10, 2021

File photo by K. Michelle Moran


GROSSE POINTES — Adding frustration to the physical and emotional exhaustion of the many residents and business owners who experienced basement flooding or sewage backups June 25-26 is the fact that many now say their claims for federal disaster relief from FEMA have been denied.

“It’s been a pretty horrible process,” said Grosse Pointe Farms resident Andy Dervan, whose Fisher Road home was among the many that received substantial damage during multiple events this summer.

But officials in the Grosse Pointes say that based on the information they’ve gotten from federal officials, claimants should keep trying.

“FEMA indicated it’s not at all unusual to have to appeal, and they encourage people to appeal,” said Grosse Pointe Park City Councilwoman Aimee Rogers Fluitt during a special council meeting by Zoom Aug. 4.

Fluitt said residents can appeal a denial up to three times.

Maybe that’s not the news flooding victims want to hear, but sometimes a denial results from a simple misunderstanding. As Park Public Safety Chief Bryan Jarrell said, if a homeowner states on the FEMA form that they have insurance — assuming that FEMA means homeowner’s or flood insurance — that results in an automatic denial of the claim by FEMA, even though “this wasn’t a flood” and therefore isn’t covered by either of those types of insurance.

“It’s really important that you read your (denial) letter thoroughly,” Jarrell said, stressing that residents need to know their rights if they were denied disaster funds.

FEMA funds only apply to the June disaster, not to later basement backups and flooding in July, city officials said.

A FEMA documentation and drop-off center has been opened inside the Grosse Pointe City Public Safety building at 17320 Mack Ave., where it is staffed daily from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. People can drop off their disaster assistance documents or get assistance registering for aid at this location. There’s also a FEMA disaster recovery center with additional resources now open at the Golightly Career and Technical Center, 900 Dickerson Ave. in the Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood in Detroit.

As part of the federal disaster declaration, the U.S. Small Business Administration is providing low-interest loans to businesses and residents who experienced flooding/basement backups.

Businesses and private nonprofits will be able to borrow up to $2 million to repair or replace equipment, inventory, machinery and other business assets damaged or ruined by the disaster. Loan increases of as much as an additional 20% will be available, as well, for mitigation improvements such as a sump pump or retaining wall to protect against future damage.

Homeowners are eligible for disaster loans of as much as $200,000 to address property damage, and both renters and homeowners can qualify for up to $40,000 for personal items that were damaged or destroyed by flooding/backups.

At press time, the SBA said interest rates on loans up to 30 years were as low as 2.88% for businesses, 2% for nonprofits and 1.625% for homeowners and renters. The SBA said loan terms and amounts are based on the applicant’s finances.

Grosse Pointe Farms resident, former City Council member and City Council candidate Sierra Leone Donaven said that many residents denied aid by FEMA are referred to the SBA. She said residents need to file for a low interest loan from the SBA to continue the process with FEMA. If the SBA turns down their loan application, Donaven said residents can then appeal to FEMA for reconsideration. If people don’t fill out the SBA form, however, “you’ve stopped the whole process” with FEMA, she said.

Farms City Councilman Neil Sroka said people can apply for, and then not accept, an SBA loan, so going through these steps doesn’t obligate anyone to accept and later pay back a loan.

At press time, FEMA officials said they had already approved more than $58.5 million in FEMA grants and SBA loans for victims of the June 25-26 floods/backups, with FEMA funds going to more than 17,240 households.

“Currently in Michigan, the SBA has approved 284 disaster loans in the amount of $8,626,200 for affected survivors,” Kem Fleming, director of SBA’s Field Operations Center East in Atlanta, said in a prepared statement Aug. 6. “The SBA encourages anyone who has not applied to act now.”

The deadline to apply for FEMA and SBA aid is Sept. 13. To apply for FEMA funds, call (800) 621-3362 or visit www.disasterassistance.gov. To apply for an SBA loan, visit disasterloanassistance.sba.gov/ela/s.

Because impacted residents might have lost the deed to their home and need it now to apply for assistance, Wayne County Register of Deeds Bernard Youngblood is temporarily offering flooding victims a free copy of their deed. To receive a copy, call (313) 224-5855 or visit www.waynecountylandrecords.com.