JACKSON, Tenn. ? People can find all sorts of reasons not to apply for help after a major disaster.
They may believe they would be ineligible because they have insurance, because they are renters instead of homeowners, because their household income is too high or too low. Maybe someone they know told them that applying for disaster assistance is just a waste of time.
"That's unfortunate," said Michael Bolch, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's recovery effort in Tennessee . "When victims of a disaster don't register with us, we have no way of knowing who they are, where they are or how we can help them."
Disaster officials urge Tennesseans who suffered storm-related damage or losses in the 15 declared counties to register with FEMA - whether they own or rent their homes and regardless of their insurance coverage. FEMA, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and the State of Tennessee have disaster aid programs to assist homeowners, renters and businesses of all sizes. It is only after those people register and their uninsured losses are evaluated that officials can determine each applicant's eligibility for grants, low-interest loans and other types of assistance.
There also are special programs available to disaster victims in Tennessee , such as crisis counseling, free legal advice and disaster unemployment assistance. But many people do not know these programs even exist unless they register with FEMA.
"These tornadoes were so devastating to so many people across Tennessee ," said Marsha Cornish, the state deputy coordinating officer for this disaster, "we want to be sure that those whose lives were disrupted by the storms receive all the state and federal aid for which they may be eligible."
Registering with FEMA requires only a toll-free phone call to 1-800-621-FEMA (3362.) There is a toll-free TTY line for the speech or hearing impaired at 1-800-462-7585 . Those lines are open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week. Applicants also may register online at FEMA's Web site www.fema.gov.
Under the current federal disaster declaration, residents of Benton, Cannon, Carroll, Cheatham, Cumberland, Davidson, Dickson, Dyer, Fayette, Gibson, Haywood, Maury, Sumner, Warren and Weakley counties are eligible to apply for disaster assistance.