help is on the way

Experts share tips on how Houstonians can file insurance and FEMA claims after the winter storm

Expert tips on how Houstonians can file insurance and FEMA claims

broken pipe freeze pipes
Far too many Texans are experiencing this view. Photo by Getty Images

As Houstonians enjoy warmer temperatures and a respite from the bitter winter storm, the cold reality of home damage claims has set in. Indeed, the Insurance Council of Texas reports that the 2021 winter storm will be the largest claim event in Lone Star State history.

“Just about every Texan was affected by this,” Camille Garcia of the Insurance Council of Texas tells CultureMap. “It ranges from residential to commercial, from fender benders to complete home loss.” The council is still calculating this unprecedented number, but Texans should expect it to be staggering.

So what to do? Garcia lists some important steps during the claim process:

  • Document all damages with photos and video and make a list of those damages. This will enable customers to have a more productive conversation with their insurance adjuster.
  • Important note: Keep broken pipes, as insurance companies may need to see the type of pipe for their records.
  • Customers should request information on their specific policy, coverages, coverage limits, and deductible.
  • Document all conversations with insurance adjusters, contractors, and others who are key to your recovery. This enables better follow-up and sets timeline expectations.

Garcia also notes that with the sheer scope of the damage and work involved — added to the pandemic problems — more of the claims process may go virtual.

“To keep folks safe, insurance carriers have increased their technology platforms to handle claims adjusting and customer communications more efficiently,” Garcia says. “While some claims, due to customer preference and/or the magnitude of the loss may need in-person adjusting, virtual claims handling will help to expedite the process.”

FEMA steps in
Thankfully for Texas, federal help is on the way, thanks to President Joe Biden’s disaster declaration on February 19. FEMA has announced grants, low-cost loans, and other forms of assistance to help Texans get back on their feet — including temporary housing.

To get started, FEMA staffers note that Texas residents require only basic information, according to its official disaster assistance site. This includes:

  • Insurance determination letter (FEMA will not provide assistance for losses that are covered by insurance.)
  • Proof of occupancy or ownership
  • Proof of ID

The federal agency also dispels certain circulating rumors on its site, including food vouchers (not true) and coverage of insurance deductibles (not happening, says FEMA). FEMA notes that inspectors will contact applicants to schedule an appointment; it may take up to 30 days for an inspector to contact them to schedule an inspection. The agency is currently covering 77 Texas counties in its declaration. The 77 Texas counties included in the declaration are:

  • Angelina
  • Aransas
  • Bastrop
  • Bee
  • Bell
  • Bexar
  • Blanco
  • Brazoria
  • Brazos
  • Brown
  • Burleson
  • Caldwell
  • Calhoun
  • Cameron
  • Chambers
  • Collin
  • Comal
  • Comanche
  • Cooke
  • Coryell
  • Dallas
  • Denton
  • DeWitt
  • Ellis
  • Falls
  • Fort Bend
  • Galveston
  • Gillespie
  • Grimes
  • Guadalupe
  • Hardin
  • Harris
  • Hays
  • Henderson
  • Hidalgo
  • Hood
  • Jasper
  • Jefferson
  • Johnson
  • Kaufman
  • Kendall
  • Lavaca
  • Liberty
  • Madison
  • Matagorda
  • Maverick
  • McLennan
  • Montague
  • Montgomery
  • Nacogdoches
  • Nueces
  • Orange
  • Palo Pinto
  • Panola
  • Parker
  • Polk
  • Rockwall
  • Sabine
  • San Jacinto
  • San Patricio
  • Scurry
  • Shelby
  • Smith
  • Stephens
  • Tarrant
  • Travis
  • Tyler
  • Upshur
  • Van Zandt
  • Victoria
  • Walker
  • Waller
  • Wharton
  • Wichita
  • Williamson
  • Wilson
  • Wise

CultureMap will update this article.