Texarkana, TX, January 26, 2001 -- "It is important that Texans have realistic expectations of what disaster assistance can provide."
That was the message today by federal and state disaster recovery officials who are concerned that individuals expect the government to reimburse them for all costs and damages resulting from the severe winter storms of Dec. 12 to Jan. 15.
"We are here to help the State of Texas in the recovery process," said A. David Rodham, Federal Coordinating Officer for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), "but we can't put peoples' lives back the way they were before the disaster."
"Federal disaster grant programs are designed to help return a family to a form of normality; to recover, not to restore," said State Coordinating Officer Richard Boltz. "People who expect to be compensated for every sstorm--related expense will be greatly disappointed."
While FEMA provides funding and oversees the disaster recovery effort, most of the programs are administered by the state involved. Each state pays its own cost share with its own administration plan and develops price lists for the locality involved, Boltz explained. "While several states were hit by the same storms, the benefits will not be identical in each state."
Rodham said that federal law controls the types of grants that may be offered. In no cases, however, will grants be given for damages that are covered by private insurance. "We often can help where there is no insurance, or not enough insurance, but every case is different. Many factors are involved, such as income, employment, and health considerations, for example."
Food lost in a disaster is never covered by the grant programs, though voluntary agencies provide emergency food and emergency shelter early in the process.
Federal law pertaining to grants forbids paying for debris removal on private property, though some funds or reimbursement may be allowed if the debris creates a safety hazard or prevents access to the home.
For damage to homes, personal property, and business property, the largest source of federal assistance may be a low--interest loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). SBA loans can cover repairs to homes, debris removal, household contents (including food), automobiles and business assets. Individuals and businesses must be able to repay the loan. "SBA makes loans at low rates and long terms to make the payments affordable," said Raymond P. Chatham, SBA Director for Disaster Assistance.
"Disaster Housing grants may be available if, for a relatively small amount, a home can quickly be made habitable," Boltz said. "This is bare--bones repair, no decorations, no embellishments, just what it takes to make the home safe and sanitary. And people can often be reimbursed for the cost of living elsewhere while their home is uninhabitable."
Persons who do not qualify for Disaster Housing, nor an SBA, loan may be referred for an Individual and Family Grant, which does not have to be repaid. This is for extraordinary needs that cannot be met otherwise. If there are still additional needs, FEMA can refer the case to other agencies which may be able to help.
For structural repair, state and FEMA inspectors will pay a home visit to verify the damage. Rodham noted that if people underwent extra expenses because of the storm, such as emergency repairs not covered by insurance, they should keep all receipts to verify the expenditures.
There is a whole array of other benefits and programs for which a person may or may not be eligible, and anyone who thinks he might have a claim should register.
"The worst that can happen is that a person would not be eligible," said Boltz. "But it is a certainty he or she won't get help without registering. Even if the help is less than expected, it is better than nothing at all. I urge everyone who...