BURLINGTON, Vt. -- Vermont senior citizens who apply for or receive federal disaster assistance after Tropical Storm Irene will not lose Social Security benefits or pay additional taxes, according to Federal Emergency Management Agency officials.
"A federal grant does not add to a senior's taxable income, as long as the grant is given as assistance to recover from a disaster," said Federal Coordinating Officer Craig Gilbert. "We don't want any senior affected by Tropical Storm Irene to be afraid to ask for help."
Those who have experienced damage from the storm may be eligible for FEMA's Individual Assistance Program. This may cover expenses for temporary housing, home repairs, replacement of damaged personal property and other disaster-related needs, such as medical, dental or transportation costs, not covered by insurance or other programs.
Seniors should not worry that receiving federal disaster assistance will jeopardize Social Security payments or Medicare benefits -- it will not. Federal disaster assistance is not considered taxable income.
Disaster officials encourage Vermonters to register with FEMA even if they called 211 to report their damage. Calling 211 does not register for FEMA. To apply, call 800-621-FEMA (3362), go online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov or use a web-enabled mobile device at m.fema.gov. Multilingual registration assistance is available. Those with a speech disability or hearing loss who use a TTY can call 800-462-7585 directly; or call 800-621-3362 if using 711 or Video Relay Service (VRS).
After registering with FEMA, applicants may receive a packet from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). Those who are inclined to toss it in the trash may want to reconsider.
SBA loans are not just for small businesses -- they also offer low-interest disaster loans for homeowners and renters. No one is obligated to take out a loan. But if you don't complete the application, you will not be considered for other federal grants.
The SBA offers disaster loans up to $200,000 to repair or replace homes and up to $40,000 to homeowners and renters for personal property losses. Interest rates are as low as 2.6 percent.
Seniors may visit a disaster recovery center after they register with FEMA. Recovery center staff can quickly review and update applicant information and provide specific answers to individual questions and concerns about FEMA grants or SBA low-interest disaster loans. They also can identify possible help from voluntary agencies or provide disaster-related information to reduce future damage risks.
To locate the nearest disaster recovery center, call the FEMA Helpline at 800-621-FEMA (3362) or go online at asd.fema.gov/inter/locator/drcLocator.jsp.
Disaster recovery assistance is available without regard to race, color, religion, nationality, sex, age, disability, English proficiency or economic status. If you or someone you know has been discriminated against, call FEMA toll-free at 800-621-FEMA (3362). For TTY call 800-462-7585; or call 800-621-3362 if using 711 or Video Relay Service (VRS).
FEMA's temporary housing assistance and grants for public transportation expenses, medical and dental expenses, and funeral and burial expenses do not require individuals to apply for an SBA loan. However, applicants who receive SBA loan applications must submit them to SBA loan officers to be eligible for assistance that covers personal property, vehicle repair or replacement, and moving and storage expenses.
SBA disaster loan informati...