Misunderstandings May Cause Some to Miss Out on Hurricane Disaster Assistance

October 7, 2005

In the turmoil that accompanies the shock and loss of a disaster, misleading rumors, half-truths and misunderstandings about available assistance may cause some hurricane-struck residents to miss out on much-needed help. The goal of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is to get help to everyone who is eligible.

Recovery officials are concerned that unreliable word-of-mouth in distressed neighborhoods and communities may deprive eligible individuals and households of vital aid from the State of Louisiana and FEMA. “So many people have lost so much. If they don’t apply because of rumors or misinformation, they may lose an opportunity to get help with a new start. They should call and register,” said Vice Admiral Thad Allen, principal federal official and federal coordinating officer for Hurricane Katrina recovery effort.

Residents who suffered damages and losses as a result of the hurricanes can apply for assistance immediately by calling 1- 800-621-FEMA (3362) . People with a speech- or hearing-impairment can call (TTY) 1- 800-462-7585 . Both lines are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week until further notice.

FEMA and the State of Louisiana clarified some of the most common misconceptions:

* I got help from the American Red Cross, so now I can’t get help from FEMA or the state. Not True: FEMA and the State of Louisiana coordinate 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 and other voluntary agencies.
* I got help from the American Red Cross, so I’m already registered with FEMA. Not True: Registration with the American 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 . You can also apply online by visiting www.fema.gov .
* 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 is important to register for assistance even while you are working with your insurance company to assess your insurance coverage.
* I have to be poor to qualify for disaster aid. Not True: The kind of help provided depends on each applicant’s circumstances. Federal and state disaster assistance programs may be available to those who suffered damage, regardless of income.
* 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 repairs needed 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 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 renters with temporary housing needs if they have to move because of disaster damage or loss. Another type of grant may be 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 a U.S. Small Business Administration (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 the state, can help provide 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 unemployment office.

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