Common Misunderstandings May Cause Some Ind. Victims to Miss Disaster Assistance

January 31, 2005

In the first few weeks following a disaster, residents may be misled by half-truths and rumors they hear about how to get help and the various assistance programs that are available.

According to state and federal disaster recovery officials, the best way to avoid that problem is to call and find out for yourself just what kind of assistance is available to you. Residents can begin the disaster assistance process by calling FEMA’s toll-free number at 1-800-621-FEMA (3362). For those with speech or hearing impairment, the special TTY number to call is 1-800 462-7585. Both numbers are available from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week until further notice. Individuals with Internet access now have the option to apply on the agency’s Web site at where valuable recovery information is also available.

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. That 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, and be sure to keep papers and receipts for any work. If you still have unmet disaster-related needs, you should call FEMA to apply. To avoid a duplication of benefits, you may need to provide additional insurance information.

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 have to make a reservation and go to a Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) to apply for assistance.
Not True. There are 2 ways to apply for assistance. You may call FEMA’s toll-free number at 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or TTY 1-800 462-7585 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week. Individuals with Internet can apply on the agency’s Web site at . Disaster Recovery Centers (DRC) are designed to provide additional information or assistance. No appointment is necessary and you may visit any DRC even if it is not located in your town or county. SBA officials are also available to assist with low-interest loan applications for homeowners and renters, as well as businesses of all sizes.

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 agency 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.
True. Renters and homeowners may be eligible for low-interest loans for home or personal property losses, based on the type and extent of “uninsured” or “underinsured” disaster-related losses. Don’t let the name fool you. In a presidential declaration, SBA is the primary source of financial assistance.

I don’t really want a loan, but I’ve heard I need to fill out the SBA application when I receive it.
True. If you do not qualify for a loan, you may be considered for other forms of assistance, like the Other Needs Assistance program that is designed to help meet serious, disaster-related needs. However, you must complete and return the SBA loan application. If the loan application is not returned it will delay other forms of disaster assistance.

I rent an apartment. I can’t get help to replace my damaged property.
Not True. A renter may also qualify for an SBA low-interest disaster loan or a cash grant to replace personal property. One type of grant may cover temporary housing needs if a renter has to move to another dwelling. Another type of grant may be available to an eligible individual or families with serious disaster-related needs and expenses that are not covered by insurance or other disaster assistance programs.

I’m self-employed and out of work; I can qualify for disaster unemployment benefits.
True. Disaster Unemployment Assistance, funded by FEMA and administered by the Indiana Department of Work Force Development, 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 employment services office.

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