The Federal Emergency Management Agency said Friday it has provided grants to about 15 percent of the more than 72,000 people who sought assistance after tornadoes killed hundreds across Alabama last month, but twice as many were turned down for aid after an initial review.
The agency, which released the statistics in response to a request from The Associated Press, said many of the more than 20,000 applicants who received letters saying they were ineligible for assistance still could receive money or other aid after submitting additional information, such as insurance documentation.
But Gov. Robert Bentley said he was worried that the letters FEMA is sending people are too full of government jargon and would discourage many people from pursuing assistance.
“The first line should not say, `You have been turned down by FEMA.’ That’s my concern,” said Bentley. He asked to personally review a rewritten version of the letters before more go out in the state.
Mike Byrne, FEMA’s state coordinator in Alabama, said the agency would address the governor’s concerns.
Dozens of tornadoes struck the Southeast on April 27. The toll was the worst in Alabama, where twisters killed 238 people, destroyed thousands of homes and left a trail of damage estimated in the billions. Officials say the storms left 10 million cubic yards of debris, or enough to create a mile-high rubble pile if stacked on a football field.
So far, FEMA said it has provided more than $45 million in storm assistance in Alabama, where FEMA said residents have filed more than 72,000 applications for assistance. FEMA said 10,700 applicants already had received grants, but another 20,600 had been told they were ineligible.
The rejections include about 13,260 applicants who are awaiting final determinations from their insurance companies or must provide other information, Byrne said, and thousands more applications await review. Many people who were initially turned down could be approved later for assistance, he said.
Byrne, who appeared with Bentley during a news conference to discuss tornado recovery, said he was encouraged that 15 percent of applicants already had received grants just three weeks after the tornadoes, considering the scope of the disaster.
“It’s actually a pretty high eligibility,” he said in an interview.
While sympathetic to Bentley’s concern about government letters being difficult for many people to understand, Byrne said applicants shouldn’t give up.
“We just need more information … and we anticipate it will take a while to get that information,” he said.
The state’s emergency management director, Art Faulkner, said he was worried that people will be discouraged after FEMA rejects them initially.
“We need to make sure … that we put faces behind those numbers,” he said.
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