Federal aid available for Hurricane Irma victims

Federal emergency management teams are fanning out statewide to help Hurricane Irma victims register for financial assistance.

Residents in Pasco County lost trees, and in many instances, suffered damage to their homes due to Hurricane Irma. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is taking applications to provide financial assistance. (Kathy Steele)

In Pasco County, a team settled in at the Land O’ Lakes Branch Library on Collier Parkway from Oct. 11 through Oct. 14.

Area residents applying for assistance also could speak with representatives of the United States Small Business Administration and Pasco County.

Pasco County officials will make announcements soon about more locations that will open to take applications.

The in-person meet-ups with Federal Emergency Management Agency workers are only one of several ways to register for financial assistance.

Currently, the deadline to register is Nov. 9.

State officials have the option to request an extension, however.

Steven Solomon, a FEMA media relations specialist, said the easiest way to apply is to online.

The website is Disasterassistance.gov.

For those who don’t have access to a computer or the Internet, they can call FEMA at 1-800-621-3362. Because FEMA is responding to a number of recent disasters, including Irma and Hurricane Harvey, there could be long waits on the phone.

“We’re asking for people to be patient,” Solomon said.

FEMA workers also are out in the field in the 48 counties declared as federal disaster areas. “We’re walking door-to-door with Ipads, registering people as we go,” Solomon said.

The field workers will have a federal ID badge, which residents should ask to see, Solomon said.

Those who register with FEMA for assistance will be asked to provide the following information:

  • Social Security number
  • Address of the damaged property and a contact phone number
  • Insurance coverage
  • Total household income
  • Bank routing number and account number

FEMA will schedule an appointment for an inspector to meet the applicant – age 18 or older – at the hurricane damaged property. The inspector doesn’t determine eligibility, Solomon said.

All of the information is sent to FEMA, and a letter will be sent to the applicant regarding a grant award.

FEMA grants can pay for a variety of losses including home repairs, temporary housing, transportation, medical and dental costs and funeral expenses.

These will be grants, not loans that would be repaid. Also, grants are not considered taxable income, and they don’t affect other benefits being received, such as Social Security or food stamps.

Homeowners with property insurance should file separate claims with their insurance companies and FEMA. The federal agency can supplement what insurance doesn’t cover.

Grant amounts aren’t intended to be a dollar for dollar replacement of all losses, but Solomon said they can aid in “making people whole again.”

Businesses can apply for low-interest loans through the Small Business Administration. Solomon said it also would be helpful for business owners to talk with FEMA representatives to find out if other types of benefits also would be available.

Anyone who needs repairs completed should do so as quickly as possible, without waiting for a FEMA decision, Solomon said. But, they also should take pictures of the damage and keep receipts for purchases and services, he added.

Everyone should be on the alert for scam artists trying to take advantage of people, Solomon said.

“There is no charge for anything FEMA does,” Solomon said. “If (anyone) asks for money, it’s a scam.”

Avoid being scammed
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has issued some tips to help people avoid being scammed, as they recover from a disaster.

Scam attempts can be made over the phone, by mail, by email, through the Internet, or in person.
Here are some tips to remember to safeguard against fraud:

  • Ask to see ID badges. All Federal Emergency Management Agency representatives always carry an identification badge with a photograph.
  • Keep your FEMA registration number safe. It is your key to your application information. Do not share it with others.
  • Safeguard personal information. No state or federal government disaster assistance agency will call you to ask for your financial account information. Unless you place a call to an agency yourself, you should not provide personal information over the phone. It can lead to identity theft. In general, be cautious when giving personal information such as social security or bank account numbers to anyone. FEMA will only request an applicant’s bank account numbers during the initial registration process. FEMA inspectors will require verification of identity but will already have your registration number.
  • Beware of people going door to door. People knocking on doors at damaged homes or phoning homeowners claiming to be building contractors could be con artists, especially if they ask for personal information or solicit money.
  • Know that federal workers do not solicit or accept money. FEMA and Small Business Administration staff never charge applicants for disaster assistance, inspections, or to help fill out applications. FEMA inspectors verify damages, but do not involve themselves in any aspect of the repair nor recommend any contractor.
  • If you suspect fraud, call the toll-free FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline at (866) 720-5721, or call your local law enforcement agency.

Published Oct. 18, 2017




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