2010-04-15 / News

FEMA and SBA offer disaster recovery help to islanders

By Eileen M. Daly

Property damage, lost jobs, lost income, and mold and mildew infestations: These are the realities of post-flood life for many island residents.

Fortunately, help is available.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has opened a number of disaster recovery centers across the state to assist Rhode Islanders with disaster-related concerns. Representatives of state, federal and voluntary agencies and the U.S. Small Business Administration are available at the centers to answer questions and provide recovery information.

The nearest DRC to Jamestown opened last Saturday and is located at the Middletown Police Station at 123 Valley Rd. in Middletown. The center is open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

According to both FEMA External Affairs Officer Jack Heesch and SBA Communications Specialist William Koontz, there are a number of important things that disaster victims can do to ensure that they are aware of all of the services available to them – while avoiding pitfalls like missed deadlines and scams.

The first step – even before visiting a DRC – is to register for assistance with FEMA by calling 1-800-621-3362 or TTY 1-800-462-7585 for the hearing or speech-impaired. Registration can also be completed online at www.fema.gov, where you’ll also find a complete statewide listing of DRCs.

Once you’ve registered with FEMA, apply for a SBA low-interest disaster loan, Koontz said. The frequent assumption that the SBA only loans to businesses is not true, he said.

Loans are available for physical damages to homes, personal property and businesses, as well as for economic injury.

“People affected by the disaster should apply for a loan even if they don’t feel they need one and even if they don’t believe they can afford a loan,” Koontz said.

Many people don’t realize that damage can take months to appear, he said.

Long after the water is gone, for example, people may find major structural damages or mold infestations that they didn’t anticipate and don’t have the money to repair, Koontz said.

“There is no cost to apply and no obligation to take the loan,” he said. “If they apply for a loan and then don’t need it, their file will just become inactive. If they miss the application deadline and then find out they need assistance, they will be out of luck,” Koontz said.

If the SBA determines a person is not able to afford a loan, he or she may then become eligible for additional assistance from FEMA, Heesch said.

People who have flood insurance should not assume they don’t qualify for a disaster loan either, Koontz said.

“There may be costs associated with code compliance, for example, that aren’t covered by flood insurance,” he said.

Low-interest disaster loans are also available to anyone who has suffered economic injury as a result of the floods.

“For example, if a restaurant suffers a decline in sales because everyone is home pumping their basements out, the owners may be eligible for a loan,” Koontz said.

The deadline to apply for loans for physical damage to homes, personal properties and businesses is May 28, 2010. The deadline for applications for economic injury is Dec. 29, 2010.

More information about SBA disaster loans, along with an online application, can be found at www.sba.gov or at any DRC center, Koontz said.

Although FEMA does not provide grants to businesses, Heesch emphasized the importance of registering with the agency anyway.

Individual business owners may qualify for unemployment assistance that is not normally provided for the self-employed, he said. Also, there are special rules for disaster recovery assistance of which people may not be aware; for instance, the normal two-week waiting period for benefi ts is waived, Heesch said.

Along with information about financial assistance, plans and strategies to cope with everything from mold and mildew removal to electrical and heating concerns can also be found at the DRCs, Heesch said.

It’s vital, however, that Rhode Islanders be alert to the potential for fraud in the wake of this disaster.

FEMA and SBA representatives always have identification badges and never solicit personal information.

“Our representatives only provide information – they do not ask for personal information,” Heesch said. Also, there are no fees associated with FEMA grants or SBA loan applications, so you should not be asked to pay for these services.

Finally, when working with contractors or clean-up crews, it is important to know whom you are dealing with, Heesch said.

“Don’t just give money to someone who says they will begin working tomorrow,” he said. “Ask for references and check them out.”

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