BEVERLY, Mass. -- State and federal disaster aid is reaching Massachusetts residents dealing with uninsured flood damage costs more quickly than ever before thanks to concentrated efforts to make recovery assistance simpler and faster.
James N. Russo, overseeing recovery operations for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said the agency has worked hard over the past few years to streamline every step of recovery: from registration to inspection to final payment.
"Quick and responsive aid is a major goal for us because it takes a lot of stress and uncertainty out of the recovery process for eligible applicants," Russo explained. "People can make realistic decisions based on cash in hand and pay contractors without putting a significant dent in their savings."
Russo pointed out several key areas that highlight the quick turnaround of aid requests.
"In Massachusetts, we've disbursed nearly 95 percent of all approved home repair grants within five days of an applicant's registration," Russo said. He noted that hundreds of grants to cover serious unmet needs were being speedily processed by the state and FEMA. In addition, more than 1,000 applications for low-interest disaster loans have been dispatched to eligible homeowners, renters and businesses from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).
Russo provided a snapshot of the latest aid totals:
- Registrations now total 1,296 applicants with Essex County at 761, Middlesex at 398, Norfolk at 30, Suffolk tallying 76 and Worcester County at 31;
- Housing Assistance of $1.5 million has been approved for 919 individuals and families for essential home repairs and temporary housing; and
- Other Needs Assistance of $119,295 has been approved for 273 residents to help meet serious disaster-related expenses not covered by insurance or other programs.
State Coordinating Officer Cristine McCombs said that although the improved processes were largely invisible to the public, the results were not. "It shows in the little things that help people under stress: simplifying registration, quickly re-scheduling inspection appointments, updating aid requests and speeding payment," said McCombs.
McCombs said that FEMA inspectors were completing more than 94 percent of their visits within 2 days of assignment and that more than 21 percent of disaster aid recipients had elected to use electronic funds transfer (EFT) for immediate and secure payment to eligible applicant bank accounts.
By calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) residents of Essex, Middlesex, Norfolk, Suffolk and Worcester Counties can register for disaster assistance. Operators can handle registrations in virtually any language; a TTY number is available for the speech and hearing impaired (1-800-462-7585). The lines are open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday.
On March 1, 2003, FEMA became part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. FEMA's continuing mission within the new department is to lead the effort to prepare the nation for all hazards and effectively manage federal response and recovery efforts following any national incident. FEMA also initiates proactive mitigation activities, trains first responders, and manages Citizen Corps, the National Flood Insurance Program and the U.S. Fire Administration.