CLEVELAND, Ohio -- In the first few weeks following a disaster, residents may be misled by half-truths and rumors about how to get help and the various assistance programs that are available. When residents suffer losses, the last thing they need is misinformation.
According to state and federal disaster recovery officials, there are two easy ways to begin the application process. Applicants may call in to FEMA’s toll-free number, 1-800-621-FEMA (3362), TTY 1-800-462-7585, available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week until further notice. Multilingual operators also are available to answer calls. Residents with Internet access can register on the agency’s Web site at www.fema.gov, where valuable recovery information also is available. The deadline to apply is August 31.
Some clarifications for common misconceptions about disaster assistance:
I have insurance. I hear there still may be other help available to me.
True. Insurance is your main source for money to put your life back in order after a disaster, but there are many things that insurance does not cover. This is where federal disaster programs may be able to help. You may find that you are “underinsured” and disaster assistance can help make up the difference.
I have to wait for my insurance adjuster before I apply for disaster assistance.
Not True. You do not have to wait for an agent or adjuster’s inspection before applying for assistance or beginning repairs needed to make your house safe, sanitary and functional; however, if you have insurance, you should find out what your policy covers. Be sure to keep papers and receipts for any work. If you still have unmet disaster-related needs, call FEMA to apply. Initially, you may not be eligible for assistance until you are able to provide additional insurance settlement information. This is necessary to avoid a duplication of benefits.
I already repaired my home. It is too late to apply.
Not True. You could qualify for reimbursement of expenses not covered by your insurance.
I got help from the American Red Cross, but I still need to apply to FEMA if I need assistance.
True. FEMA coordinates a number of programs to help disaster victims. These programs are different from the emergency food, clothing and shelter initially provided by the American Red Cross, Salvation Army and other voluntary agencies. Registration with the Red Cross or other voluntary agencies is not the same as applying with FEMA. For federal and state disaster assistance, you must apply by calling the special toll-free application number – 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or TTY 1-800-462-7585 for those with speech or hearing impairment.
I have to be poor to qualify for disaster assistance.
Not True. Federal and state disaster assistance programs may be available to those who suffered damage, regardless of income. The programs are not "welfare." The kinds of help provided depend on the applicant's circumstances and unmet disaster-related needs.
I have to be turned down by my bank before I can apply for a disaster loan.
Not True. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), which handles low-interest disaster loans, has its own criteria for determining each loan applicant’s eligibility. The SBA will decide whether or not you are able to repay a loan. If you are not qualified for a loan, you may be eligible for other assistance, but it is necessary to go through the SBA application process first.
I can apply for a loan from the SBA even if I’m not a business owner.