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Texas freeze follow-up: How to get reimbursed for spoiled food, hotel stays and cleanup costs

HOUSTON – Thousands of frozen pipes burst, causing leaks inside homes all across Texas last week. You probably already know your homeowner’s insurance will cover the damage to your home, but there are other items you may not know you can get paid for.

Spoiled food

Some people lost hundreds of dollars of food that spoiled in their fridges and freezers when the power went out. Your insurance company may not tell you, but if you request reimbursement for the groceries you lost, you can probably get up to $500.

On the first page of your homeowners’ policy, called the declarations page, look for a “food endorsement.” Not all policies include this. On the flip side, some insurance companies, like USAA, are automatically sending customers with claims this money to help pay for food and groceries lost. If your company does not send it unless you specifically request it, the money may be subject to you paying your deductible or a smaller deductible than if your claim included major home repairs.

If you see a food endorsement on your policy, you should make a list of what perishable items you lost when the power went out.

“You had condiments. You had your frozen shrimp. You had your kids’ chicken fingers,” licensed insurance adjuster Joe Braden checked off. “You had a brisket, you had, you just make up the things that we all had until we got to that $500 mark,” he explained.

Since insurance companies understand you won’t have receipts for everything in your fridge or freezer, they are not required but some proof wouldn’t hurt either.

“Before you throw it away, snap a picture of your refrigerator or a picture of your trash can where you threw everything into. That just gives them an idea ‘Oh look. The refrigerator was full,’” Braden said.

Dining out

If you go out to eat because of damages in your home made it impossible to cook, save your receipts. You can get reimbursed for expenses you incurred.

Braden said if your normal monthly grocery bill is $500, but you spent $1,000 dining out because of damages in your home, you should be able to recoup $500, the money that was more than what you usually pay.

Braden says there are keywords you should use when you file your claim. Incur is one of them.

“As a result of this loss, I incurred,” and there’s the keyword. Incurred,” he explained. “An incurred expense is really important.”

Hotel expenses

Check the declarations page of your policy for an “ALE” or “Added Living Expense” endorsement. If you have this, it means if you have to stay in a hotel or other accommodations because damage to your home made it unlivable, submit your receipts for the hotel to the insurance company.

We asked if the insurance company would reimburse for hotel costs if there was no damage in the home, but it was unlivable because there was no power. Braden said that situation depends. Typically, he said insurance companies will only payout on a claim if the outage happens on-site. For example, if your neighbor’s tree falls on a line on your property and knocks the power out, you would be covered.

In the case of the arctic freeze, the outage was off-site. Centerpoint Energy flipped a switch and turned off the electricity to 1.3 million homes. If the power outage and freezing conditions were the reason you left your home to stay in a hotel, you may be denied reimbursement for those costs. If, on the other hand, your pipes froze and then burst, causing a leak and damage to your home so severe that you couldn’t stay there, your hotel stay would likely be covered.

Increased electricity costs during cleanup

When you start to clean up, fans and dehumidifiers that restoration companies bring in could cause your electric bill to shoot up; but Braden said you shouldn’t have to bear that whole cost.

“You get a copy of last year’s bill about this time and the last couple of bills and then you show them ‘Hey look, my bills are running $300 to $400 dollars a month. And it was $700 this month.’ Well, the insurance company will reimburse you for that. Most people don’t know to ask for it,” said Braden.

Consider your deductible

Keep in mind that you may have to pay your deductible in order to get any of these reimbursements. You need to know if your damages are more than the price you’ll have to pay to cover the deductible.