Federal and state officials are urging Hurricanes Katrina and Rita victims in Mississippi to take advantage of the 60 additional days they have been given to register for federal and state financial assistance to help them recover from uninsured or under-insured losses stemming from the disaster.
The extension to March 11 was granted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
“We are renewing our efforts to identify and reach people who may not have registered for various reasons and need more time to apply,” said Nick Russo, FEMA’s federal coordinating officer in Mississippi.
To date, FEMA has received more than 512,000 applications in Mississippi and another two million applications from Alabama, Louisiana and Texas victims from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
“Those who sustained losses or damages from either hurricane should not assume that they are ineligible for assistance and should call and register to learn what type of assistance they might be eligible to receive,” said Robert Latham, Director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.
FEMA’s toll-free registration line, 800-621-FEMA (3362), continues to take calls around the clock from affected residents in Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas whether they remain in their home states or have evacuated to other parts of the country. Speech- or hearing-impaired applicants can call the TTY number 1-800-462-7585. The lines are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and multilingual operators are available to take calls.
People who have registered and who need to update or provide additional information or who have questions about their application can call the same numbers and press the HelpLine option.
FEMA also has an online assistance center at www.fema.gov where individuals can register for assistance, check on the status of their applications, and get additional disaster recovery information.
Officials say in every disaster there are people who do not register because they have home insurance and do not think they are eligible. Many later find damage that was uninsured or underinsured and realize they have missed their chance at assistance because registration has closed.
Callers will need to supply the following information:
* Current phone number
* Address at the time of the disaster and current address if different
* Social Security number
* A general list of damages and losses suffered
* Directions to the damaged property
* Insurance policy number or company and agent’s name, if insured
* General financial information.
Once registered, an applicant may be eligible for temporary housing assistance – such as financial aid for rent or emergency repair grants of up to $5,200 for homeowners with uninsured or underinsured disaster-related damages to their primary residence – as well as other disaster-related expenses not met through insurance or other programs.
Individuals seeking assistance from FEMA do not need to complete a loan application from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) in order to be considered for temporary housing assistance, officials said. FEMA will process applications for housing assistance regardless of whether the applicant has applied for an SBA loan.
An applicant must, however, complete an SBA loan application to be eligible for additional assistance through the Other Needs Assistance (ONA) program that covers personal property, vehicle repair or replacement, and moving and storage expenses. Some applicants who do not meet a certain income threshold may be excused from this requirement.
In addition, there are other ONA grants such as public transportation expenses, medical and dental expenses, and funeral and burial expenses that do not require individuals to apply for an SBA loan to be eligible.
Voluntary agencies also work with individuals and families whose needs have not been fully met by state programs, FEMA or SBA.
Officials stressed that disaster assistance is not considered income and is not taxable. Disaster grants do not have to be paid back. Disaster loans are available through the SBA disaster loan program at low interest rates.
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