Cheektowaga, N.Y. -- Residents of Cattaraugus, Chautauqua and Erie counties affected by the August 8-10 storms and flooding are urged not to make assumptions about their disaster assistance needs or whether they qualify for aid.
"Following a disaster, rumors and misunderstandings about assistance may cause some residents to assume they are not eligible for aid, or that accepting assistance may shortchange their neighbors," said the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) Jaime E. Forero, Federal Coordinating Officer. "There are assistance programs that meet a wide variety of needs. Aid is available to all who qualify and there is always enough to go around."
Registering with FEMA is the first step toward determining eligibility and receiving assistance. Call FEMA's toll-free number, 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or TTY 1-800-462-7585. Multilingual operators are available to answer calls. Hours are from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. Register online anytime at www.disasterassistance.gov.
Here are the answers to some common questions about disaster assistance:
My neighbors suffered damages greater than my own. Will my accepting FEMA aid prevent them from receiving assistance?
No. There is always enough assistance available for those who qualify and FEMA's goal is to ensure that everyone receives the maximum amount to which they are eligible. Even if you consider your losses comparatively small, you should register with FEMA to let the agency determine your eligibility.
Insurance covered most of my losses. Is there other help available to me?
Yes. Insurance is your main source for money to put your life back in order after a disaster, but may not cover all of your losses. This is where federal disaster programs may be able to help. You may find that you are "underinsured" and disaster assistance can help. You do not have to wait for your insurance adjuster to settle your claim before applying for disaster assistance.
I have already registered and received a loan application from the SBA. Should I complete the application? I do not want to take out a loan.
You do not have to take a loan if offered, but failing to complete the application will remove you from consideration for other forms of assistance. If you do not qualify for a loan, you may be eligible for "Other Needs Assistance" that helps meet serious, disaster-related needs that can cover real estate, personal property, vehicle repair or replacement, and moving and storage expenses.
You do not have to apply for an SBA loan to be eligible for FEMA's temporary housing assistance and grants for medical and dental expenses, and funeral and burial expenses.
Is disaster assistance strictly for lower-income residents?
No. Federal and state disaster assistance programs are made available to those who suffered damage, regardless of income. The assistance is not taxable and does not affect Social Security benefits.
Disaster assistance to individuals is based on a number of factors, and FEMA specialists are trained to seek out and coordinate the eligible assistance from a number of sources. This might include low-interest loans and/or other resources that will help residents who are recovering from the disaster.
FEMA's mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capabilities to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from and mitigate all hazards.