Guest Commentary: FEMA assistance; how to access the help you may need
In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, it is important for our community to take action to start rebuilding. Here are some helpful tips in getting started.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is a national agency that prepares for and responds to disasters. Residents in Collier and Lee County affected by Hurricane Irma are eligible for disaster assistance and should apply by Nov. 9, 2017, which is 60 days from the date of a declaration.
Who’s eligible for assistance?
Homeowners or renters in a declared area whose essential property has been damaged or destroyed that is not covered by insurance. Those who have insurance are still eligible to receive aid on underinsured or uninsured losses, but should reach out to their insurance agency first.
How can you apply for assistance?
There are four ways to register: online at disasterassistance.gov; by phone at 1-800-621-3362 / TTY 1-800-462-7585; at a local Emergency Operations Center; or on the FEMA app, which can be downloaded on smart phones. FEMA’s phone line is open Monday through Friday from 8 AM to 6 PM. You may also contact the Florida Department of Financial Services with your insurance questions at 1-877-6935236.
What happens after you register for assistance?
Applications are reviewed and an inspector may call to schedule an inspection of your home.Ask to see a badge to make sure the inspector is legitimate. If you are deemed eligible for assistance, you should receive a United States Treasury/State check or notification of a direct deposit to your bank accounts. Other types of assistance may be provided later, based on specific eligibility and need. FEMA aid does not affect social security or other federal benefits.
What types of assistance exist?
Assistance will come in the form of a grant or loan. If you are awarded a grant that does not cover all costs of damage, you can also apply for a loan. Individual assistance can include, but is not limited to, grants for home repairs, unemployment payments, and loans to small business owners. Public assistance is also available and would fund reparations of government buildings, roads, bridges, hospitals and emergency services, and more. A complete list of what is covered is available on FEMA’s website, www.fema.gov.
Does the Small Business Administration (SBA) provide relief?
Yes, Collier and Lee Counties are on the SBA disaster declaration list. Businesses and private nonprofit organizations of any size may borrow up to $2 million to repair or replace disaster damaged or destroyed real estate, machinery and equipment, inventory, and other business assets. Applicants may be eligible for a loan amount increase up to 20 percent of their physical damages, as verified by the SBA for mitigation purposes. For small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives, small businesses engaged in aquaculture and most private nonprofit organizations, the SBA offers Economic Injury Disaster Loans to help meet working capital needs caused by the disaster. Economic Injury Disaster Loan assistance is available regardless of whether the business suffered any physical property damage. Disaster loans up to $200,000 are available to homeowners to repair or replace disaster damaged or destroyed real estate. Homeowners and renters are eligible up to $40,000 to repair or replace disaster damaged or destroyed personal property. To apply, one can visit the SBA website at disasterloan.sba.gov/, or call 1-800-659-2955 (TTY/TDD: 1-800-877-8339).
Further information about eligibility, applying, and assistance can be found at fema.gov. Staff from FEMA are available to assist with questions regarding flood insurance.
We have a long road to recovery ahead. I look forward to working with anyone who seeks assistance. My offices can be reached at the following: Cape Coral (239-599-6033), Naples (239-252-6225), and Washington, DC (1-202-225-2536).
Francis Rooney is the U.S. Representative for Florida’s 19th congressional district. He serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Committee on Education and the Workforce. He previously served as U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See under President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2008.