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Federal disaster declaration for Hurricane Ian-impacted counties opens door for FEMA financial assistance

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Daniel Lobo via Flickr creative commons
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A federal disaster declaration that now includes 13 Florida counties is creating an opportunity for residents impacted by Hurricane Ian’s catastrophic impacts to receive financial help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Speaking with reporters, Thursday, President Joe Biden said the federal government can provide up to $37,900 in additional assistance for home repairs beyond what one's insurance may cover and another $37,900 for lost property. Applicants, however should temper their expectations.

“We (FEMA) don’t rebuild homes back to the way they were,” said FEMA spokesperson Jann Tracey.

“We basically bring them back to a safe and sanitary, habitable condition. So, we start with home repairs. We also replace loss of property and that’s only essential property like your automobile.”

Tracey said federal assistance for lost property will help pay to replace a car someone uses on a regular basis, but would not cover the cost of something like a vintage collectors car that may have been destroyed in someone’s garage. Other essential items FEMA covers include items like stoves, furnaces, and refrigerators.

Income is not a factor used in determining how much money someone could get from FEMA to make home repairs. Funding is based on what it would cost to bring a home back to a livable condition.

“Let me give you an example. If you had a pool table in your basement and it was a recreation room, well, no. FEMA’s not going to cover that,” said Tracey.

“If you had a five-bedroom house, but only one bedroom’s in use because the kids already moved onto college or whatever, then FEMA is not going to cover that. It’s going to be…what is essential.”

Residents of Florida counties covered by the Hurricane Ian disaster declaration can apply online at DisasterAssistance.gov, by calling 800-621-FEMA, by downloading the FEMA app and completing an application through a smartphone, or in-person at a federal processing center. Tracey said such centers are currently being set up. Processing center locations will be posted at FEMA.gov.

The first step, though, is to contact one’s homeowners and/or flood insurance provider as FEMA does not duplicate insurance coverage. To complete an application, FEMA requires:

  • Social security number
  • Insurance policy numbers or agent’s name
  • Phone number where applicant can be reached
  • Address of damaged property
  • Address where an applicant is currently staying

Tracey said FEMA assistance can be particularly useful for seniors who may have already paid of their home and didn’t carry a flood insurance policy because they weren’t required to the way people with a mortgage would.

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Kinfay Moroti
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Special to WGCU
FEMA spokesperson Jann Tracey advises applicants to document damage before they begin cleaning up. “It’s important to document everything…Take photos of damage. Take pictures of things like the water line on the walls of your house; anything that can prove at a later date that you had water damage or wind damage,” said Tracey.

Tracey advises applicants to document damage before they begin cleaning up. “It’s important to document everything…Take photos of damage. Take pictures of things like the water line on the walls of your house; anything that can prove at a later date that you had water damage or wind damage,” said Tracey.

Typically, FEMA would have an inspector come out to a property in the first week or two, but given the severity and breath of damage from Ian, she said it’s too early to say what the timeline could be.

For losses pertaining to businesses, there’s federal assistance available in the form of low interest loans from the Small Business Administration (SBA), but Tracey said SBA loans can also help homeowners with repairing their home or buying a new one.

“We recommend that people apply for that SBA loan and just have it in their back pocket; Just have the approval done.,” said Tracey. “They don’t have to take the loan. They can just get approved and then sit back and if they need it they can access it. If they don’t need it its’ fine. It doesn’t matter.”

Florida counties currently covered by the federal disaster declaration include Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Hardee, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Orange, Osceola, Pinellas, Polk, Sarasota and Seminole.

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