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6 Investigates: FEMA denies disaster assistance because home is 'habitable'

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CORPUS CHRISTI -

For Dwayne Porter, just getting out of his house is a struggle these days.

Hurricane Harvey badly damaged the handicap ramp to his front door.

That path is now unsafe for Porter, who is legally blind and doesn’t have home insurance to repair the damage.

 “I've fell off this porch twice because I can't judge the distance," Porter said.

Days after Hurricane Harvey, he applied for FEMA assistance to fix the ramp. A few days later, FEMA sent someone to look at the damage.

Porter's denial story is one of several FEMA denials 6 Investigates has received calls about since Hurricane Harvey. FEMA could not provide the number of claims denied because that information is not readily available, said Rita Egan, FEMA public information officer.

6 Investigates has filed a Freedom of Information request for that information.

Porter, like many who contacted KRIS 6 News, explained how he was denied assistance.

Three days after he applied, he checked on his claim status to learn he was denied because his home is considered habitable.

Local attorney Tracy Figueroa who specializes in FEMA denials gave her opinion on the matter.

"A ramp that is the way that someone gets in and out of their home seems to me it would affect habitability,” Figueroa said, attorney with nonprofit Texas RioGrande Legal Aid.

Porter’s denial is based on FEMA standards, and those standards are confusing for many.

"It's uninhabitable if it is unsafe, unsanitary or not functional, Figueroa said. “And then you go: What does that mean?”

Figueroa works for nonprofit Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, which has sued FEMA in the past because of the standards it uses to deny claims during disaster events.

Earlier this year, a federal judge ordered FEMA to stop using "secret standards" it used during hurricane dolly to deny claims.

“FEMA gets to pick what the standards are,” Figueroa said. “We just want them to be transparent about it."

There are no secret standards being used, Egan said.

"In this case, no,” she said, referencing Porter’s claim. “We have not heard of it. Can I guarantee that every inspector is top notch? No. I can't guarantee that about every human being."

The most common reason people are denied assistance, Egan said, is because the application wasn’t filled out correctly. If someone is denied assistance and believes it to be a mistake, Egan encouraged those affected to seek out a FEMA mobile location and try to sort out what went wrong.

As for Porter, he can't drive because of his visual impairment. Egan confirmed the agency is looking into why Porter’s claim was denied.

 “We're going to advance this case to our disability integration advisor, so they can review any special needs,” Egan said.

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