Officials Say Myths, Misunderstandings May Cause Some to Miss Out on Pa. Disaster Aid

April 25, 2005

In the turmoil, shock and loss that follows a disaster, misleading rumors, half-truths and misunderstandings about available assistance may cause affected residents to disqualify themselves from much-needed help.

Recovery officials voiced concern that word-of-mouth misinformation may discourage eligible individuals from seeking help from the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) and from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

“The last thing you need in a disaster is misinformation,” said State Coordinating Officer Adrian King Jr. “The best way to avoid that problem is to call the toll free teleregistration number and ask what kind of assistance is available to you.”

Residents who suffered damages and losses as a result of the heavy rain and flooding that began on April 2, 2005 should apply for assistance immediately by calling 1-800-621-3362 (FEMA). Those with a speech or hearing impairment can call (TTY) 1-800-462-7585. The lines are open 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week until further notice.

“There are many common misconceptions that should simply be ignored,” said Tom Davies, federal coordinating officer. “Residents should call and get accurate information.” Some of the myths heard in past disasters include:

* I received help from a previous disaster so I’m not eligible. Not True: Every disaster is considered separately. When you call to register a specialist will evaluate your application for the current disaster.
* I have insurance, so there is no other help available. Not True: FEMA will not duplicate insurance benefits but you may be eligible for help with losses not covered or damage in excess of your coverage (“under-insured”). That’s why it’s important to register for assistance even while you are working with your insurance company to assess your insurance coverage.
* I have to wait for my insurance adjuster before I apply for disaster assistance. Not True: Don’t wait for an adjuster before applying for aid or making necessary repairs to make your house livable. However, you should find out what your policy covers, and be sure to keep papers and receipts for any work.
* I already repaired my home. I don’t need to apply. Not True: You might qualify for reimbursement of expenses not covered by insurance.
* I got help from the Red Cross, so now I can’t get help from FEMA or the state. Not True: FEMA and PEMA coordinate a number of programs to help disaster victims. These programs are different from the emergency food, clothing and shelter initially provided by the Red Cross and other voluntary agencies.
* I got help from the Red Cross, so I’m already registered with FEMA. Not True: Registration with the Red Cross is not the same as registration with FEMA. For federal and state disaster assistance, you must first apply by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or (TTY) 1-800-462-7585, or you may apply online at
* I make too much money to qualify for disaster aid. Not True: The kinds of help provided depend on each applicant’s circumstances. Federal and state disaster assistance programs may be available to those who suffered damage, regardless of income. The programs are not “welfare.”
* 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 a grant, but it is necessary to go through the SBA application process first.
* I must own a business to apply for a loan from the SBA. Not True: Based on the type and extent of “uninsured” or “underinsured” disaster-related losses and damages, individuals may be eligible for low-interest loans for home or personal property losses.
* I rent an apartment. I can’t get help. Not True: There are several types of assistance available to renters. One type of grant may help a renter with temporary housing needs if they have to move because of disaster damage or loss. Another type of grant is available to an eligible individual or family with serious, disaster-related needs and necessary expenses that are not covered by insurance or other disaster assistance programs. Also a renter may qualify for an SBA low-interest disaster loan.
* I’m self-employed and out of work; I can’t qualify for disaster unemployment benefits. Not True: Disaster Unemployment Assistance, funded by FEMA and administered by PEMA, provides benefits for workers who would not normally qualify for unemployment compensation, including farmers, farm workers and those who are self-employed. Anyone interested in filing for disaster unemployment assistance should visit the nearest state or county unemployment office. Emergency unemployment claims for the heavy rain and flooding of that began on April 2, 2005 must be filed no later than May 19.

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