Herald JournalHerald and Journal, July 15, 2002

FEMA to open disaster recovery center in Howard Lake

By Lynda Jensen

Field officers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) arrived in the Howard Lake, Waverly and Winsted area soon after the county was declared a disaster area July 9.

The agents have been going door-to-door, urging people to call the 1-800-621-FEMA phone number.

FEMA also plans to open a disaster recovery center at the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted high school in Howard Lake today (Monday), with hours from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day except Sunday this week.

The recovery center will process people from both McLeod and Wright counties who have already called the FEMA 800 number.

The center will be open during this week, and plans to close at the end of the day, Monday, July 22.

It will be staffed with people who can answer questions about insurance, finances, and prevention, among other things. The number also doubles up as a help line, said Sam Ventura of FEMA, who serves both McLeod and Wright counties.

Any person associated with FEMA will have photo identification tags hanging around their neck, or immediately available upon request, Ventura said.

Ventura, who has seen a variety of other flooding disasters, admits that he was surprised by the flooding in this area, since no rivers exist nearby. "That's a little unusual," he commented.

In addition, Ventura noted the strong independence of some Minnesotans, since he is from Chicago.

Some residents have an aversion to calling for assistance, although this is not a handout, he said. "It's your tax money," he said. The money was collected for disasters, and this is what it is meant for, he said.

FEMA is not a big government entity, he said ­ but rather, a very efficient, lean arm of the United States government that is enacted in time of need, he said.

For example, FEMA is staffed by a small core of people who work full time. Most FEMA employees work on an on-call basis, and do not receive benefits, he said.

"It's amazing how the field office in Moorhead can be empty one day, and then going full gear the next," he said. There is little waste when it comes to FEMA, he said.

What kinds of aid?

Individuals and small businesses are qualified for low interest financing. Individuals are also qualified for grants, he said.

The public funding portion ­ or that which covers public roads for cities and counties ­ is still in progress, Ventura said.

FEMA does not wait when it comes to individual or business claims, and the property owner can generally expect to see an inspector in 10 days from the phone call to register, he said.

The money is still not a replacement for insurance, he said. FEMA assistance covers basic necessities, and not luxury items.

The following is a list of the different kinds of financial aid available from FEMA.

Disaster Housing Assistance

Help is available for renters and homeowners whose primary residences were damaged or destroyed or who face displacement from their homes. Aid can include grants for alternate rental housing, money for emergency repairs to make a home livable or mortgage or rental assistance.

Home/Personal Property

U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) disaster loans of up to $200,000 are available to homeowners for real estate repairs. Renters and homeowners may borrow up to $40,000 to replace personal property losses.

Individual and Family Grants

State-administered individual and family grants may be made to meet disaster-related serious needs or necessary expenses not covered by other assistance programs or insurance.

Business Disaster Loans

Businesses of all sizes and nonprofit organizations may borrow up to $1.5 million from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to fund repairs or replacement of real estate, machinery and equipment, inventory and other assets. For small businesses, SBA makes economic-injury loans available for working capital to pay necessary obligations. Eligible businesses can be in the counties contiguous to as well as in the disaster-declared counties.

Consumer Services

Assistance is available to file consumer complaints about disreputable business practices and other problems.

Disaster Unemployment

Weekly benefits may be provided for those out of work due to the disaster, including self-employed persons, farm/ranch owners and others not covered by regular unemployment. Apply at your local unemployment office.

Agricultural Assistance

Emergency loans may be available to farmers operating and managing farms or ranches, limited to compensation for actual losses to essential property and/or production capacity. Cost-sharing grants also are available for emergency conservation measures. Contact your local U.S. Department of Agriculture Farrn Service Agency office.

Social Security

Help is provided to speed the delivery of checks delayed by the disaster and to apply for Social Security disability and survivor benefits.

Tax Assistance

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) allows federal income tax deductions for underinsured or uninsured casualty losses on homes, personal property and household goods. Those eligible may file amended returns for the previous year.

Fraud Protection, Legal Services

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development can assist in cases of unlawful discrimination in federally subsidized or insured housing. Complaints of fraud or other misrepresentation may be filed with the state Attorney General's Office. Legal assistance and/or referrals may be available by calling the state bar association.

Insurance Information

Assistance is available from the state insurance department on matters such as expediting settlements, obtaining copies of lost policies, verifying losses and filing claims.

Veterans Benefits

Information is available about benefits, pensions, insurance and VA mortgage loans.

Volunteer Agency Services

Volunteer relief agencies, such as the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army and religious groups, offer a wide range of services from supplying victims with home clean-up kits to financial assistance to meet emergency disaster-caused needs.

A good time to think about flood insurance

Maintaining a flood insurance policy is one of the most effective ways to protect yourself against the cost of flood damage. As many residents found out in the aftermath of the recent flooding, homeowner policies do not cover damage from rising waters. But those who do not have flood insurance can take steps now to protect themselves against future flood losses.

Flood insurance backed by the federal government is available to any homeowner, renter or business owner whose property is in a community that participates in the National Flood Insurance Program. In order to participate, the community must adopt and enforce local floodplain management ordinances designed to reduce the risk of future flood losses.

Note: Howard Lake applied for membership in the National Flood Insurance Program program five years ago, and was denied because the city is not located in a flood plain.

Also, Waverly decided against passing ordinances for this type of coverage because the one single area that qualified was city park buildings (non-residential areas), said Waverly Clerk Debbie Ryks.

Aside from this, the ordinance required to be passed by the federal government would have made it impossible for lakeshore owners to re-build in the same location, Ryks said.

Ventura suggested that private insurance would give options in this instance, for Howard Lake and Waverly people.

Federal disaster assistance is available only if a flood (or other disaster) is so large and widespread it warrants a major disaster declaration from the president. Most disasters are not presidentially declared

In the majority of floods, victims are on their own-unless they have flood insurance.

For more information, contact your local insurance agent or company or call the NFlP toll-free number, 800-720-1090.

SBA low-interest loans: Not only for businesses

A low-interest loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is the primary form of federal assistance for long term recovery for homeowners, renters and businesses of all sizes.

These SBA loans fund repairs of damages to private property not fully covered by insurance. By making affordable loans, the SBA disaster program helps disaster victims pay for repairs while keeping costs to the taxpayer reasonable.

SBA disaster loans of up to $200,000 are available to homeowners for real estate repairs, and up to $40,000 for replacement of disaster-damaged personal property. Renters may borrow up to $40,000 to replace disaster-damaged property.

An additional 20 percent may be added to the disaster loan to cover the costs of mitigation devices.

SBA analyzes the income and debts of a homeowner or renter. If the applicant cannot afford a disaster loan, SBA may automatically refer that person to the state-run Individual and Family Grant Program for assistance.

Businesses of all sizes and private non professional organizations may apply for low-interest disaster loans from SBA to repair or replace, disaster-damaged real estate, machinery an equipment, inventory and other business assets. Loans of up to $1.5 million are available for losses not fully covered by insurance.

For small businesses only, SBA makes Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDLs) to provide working capital to pay necessary obligations until operations return to normal. These loans, of up to $1.5 million, are available to businesses financially impacted by the disaster, even if they had no property damage. Small businesses located in counties contiguous to the declared counties also may apply for these loans.

When you register for assistance by call in the toll-free number, 800-621-FEMA, you may receive an SBA loan application. If you need assistance in completing it, you can get help from an SBA representative at an disaster recovery center. Also visit SBA the Web at www.sba.gov.

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