Q: My mother and her neighbors were without electricity for more than 4 days. All of the food in the refrigerator was spoiled and had to be thrown out. Her housekeeper is making a list for the grocery store to replace the items lost. She called and asked me if there was anyway to recoup the cost of such a large food order. I’ve never been in this situation so I didn’t know what to tell her? Do you have any idea if there is help for people who have suffered this financial loss?
A: Individuals with homeowners insurance or renters insurance should first read their policy to try and determine if they may be eligible for reimbursement of food lost. If someone had a fully stocked freezer and refrigerator the loss could easily add up to hundreds of dollars. The next step would be to contact their insurance agent for clarification and what would be required to file a claim if they are eligible. Companies vary in their coverage and how they define “perils”. Some companies may cover the loss if the power outage is limited to the policy holders residence while other companies may do so if the entire neighborhood was impacted. The outage would not be considered if it was due to negligence by the home owner or failure to pay their bill resulting in their power being disconnected. It will be extremely important to contact the insurance company immediately in the event they require a picture of the lost food. Policies may also have coverage limits and/or deductibles may apply.
Individuals who receive SNAP benefits (previously known as food stamps) may also be eligible for assistance (one month of SNAP benefits) due to a household disaster. They must report the loss within 10 days by phone or writing and then follow up with a completed form requesting additional benefits (within 10 days of the report).
There are always going to be times when a prolonged power outage is unpredictable or unexpected. In instances where the public has several days warning a powerful storm is headed their way there are steps to take to attempt to prevent food spoilage. If a person has advance notice try freezing zip lock bags filled with water that can be used to maintain temperature in the freezer and refrigerator. A trick I had never heard of was offered by a consumer reporter in the last few days. Purchase bags of ice and put them in your washing machine, food can be placed in the machine and stay at a safe temperature for a few days. A friend living in the far regions of Maine said people during the winter often put a cooler deep in snow to keep food at a safe temperature when they lose power.
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