Federal disaster assistance for eligible individuals and business owners with damage caused by Hurricane Wilma has been expanded to include residents of Brevard, Indian River, and Okeechobee counties, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
“We are committed to Florida and encourage those affected by Hurricane Wilma to call and register for assistance,” Federal Coordinating Officer Justin DeMello said. “We are working hard to wrap up additional assessments and begin on the path to recovery.”
Based on aerial assessments and the work of joint local, state and federal preliminary damage assessment (PDA) teams – who were on the ground shortly after Wilma’s winds subsided – the three additional counties were designated for Individual Assistance under the major disaster declaration issued by President Bush on October 24. Other counties already designated for Individual Assistance under the disaster declaration are St. Lucie, Hendry, Martin, Glades, Broward, Collier, Lee, Miami-Dade, Monroe and Palm Beach.
“Assistance from our federal partners will go a long way toward helping families and communities affected by Hurricane Wilma recover and rebuild,” said State Coordinating Officer Craig Fugate. “Expediting aid and resources to Floridians remains our top priority.”
Individual Assistance can include grants to help pay for temporary housing, home repairs and other disaster-related expenses not met by insurance or other aid programs. Low-interest loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration will also be available to cover residential and business losses not fully compensated by insurance.
DeMello said that affected residents and business owners in the designated counties can begin the disaster application process by calling the toll-free registration number, 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) 24 hours a day, seven days a week until further notice. Those with a speech or hearing impairment can call a special TTY number at 1-800-462-7585. Applicants may instead choose to register online at www.fema.gov.
The three counties were among those previously declared eligible for the Public Assistance program – under which state and local governments and eligible non-profit agencies may be reimbursed for emergency services and eligible debris removal – along with Broward, Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Hendry, Highlands, Lee, Martin, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Osceola, Palm Beach, Polk, St. Lucie, and Sarasota.
In addition, Public Assistance has been expanded to include categories C-G – reimbursement for rebuilding and/or replacing disaster-damaged public facilities such as roads, bridges, and public buildings – in the following thirteen hard-hit counties: Broward, Collier, Glades, Hardee, Hendry, Highlands, Martin, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Okechobee, Palm Beach, Sarasota, and St. Lucie.
This expanded public assistance allows FEMA to provide state and local agencies and certain non-profit organizations in these counties with funds for qualified projects to restore and repair infrastructure. The state is the grants manager for all projects. FEMA pays 75 percent of the cost of projects and the state and/or applying agency is responsible for the remaining 25 percent.
FEMA Florida Long-Term Recovery and state Public Assistance officials already have been making contact with local officials in the damaged areas to answer questions about debris removal eligibility and the reimbursement process. Applicant briefings will be scheduled by the state in each of the designated counties to explain the Public Assistance program to local officials.
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