Yesterday, President Obama issued a Major Disaster Declaration for damage resulting from Hurricane Irene in New Jersey, which makes many New Jersey residents eligible for a number of Federal disaster relief programs. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced that federal aid has been made available to certain people in need of disaster assistance in the State of New Jersey to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the area affected by Hurricane Irene beginning on August 27, 2011, and continuing.
What Does Disaster Recovery Assistance Entail?
According to the FEMA website, there area number of federal disaster recovery assistance programs that can be made available (as needed and warranted) under the major disaster declaration, which was issued by President Obama for the State of New Jersey.
Here is a summary of those programs – taken directly from the FEMA website:
Assistance for Affected Individuals and Families Can Include as Required:
- Rental payments for temporary housing for those whose homes are unlivable. Initial assistance may be provided for two months for homeowners and renters. Assistance may be extended if requested after the initial period based on a review of individual applicant requirements. (Source: FEMA funded and administered.)
- Grants for home repairs and replacement of essential household items not covered by insurance to make damaged dwellings safe, sanitary and functional. (Source: FEMA funded and administered.)
- Grants to replace personal property and help meet medical, dental, funeral, transportation and other serious disaster-related needs not covered by insurance or other federal, state and charitable aid programs. (Source: FEMA funded at 75 percent of total eligible costs; 25 percent funded by the state.)
- Unemployment payments up to 26 weeks from the date of the disaster declaration for workers who temporarily lost jobs because of the disaster and who do not qualify for state benefits, such as self-employed individuals. (Source: FEMA funded; state administered.)
- Low-interest loans to cover residential losses not fully compensated by insurance. Loans available up to $200,000 for primary residence; $40,000 for personal property, including renter losses. Loans available up to $2 million for business property losses not fully compensated by insurance. (Source: U.S. Small Business Administration.)
- Loans up to $2 million for small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives and most private, non-profit organizations of all sizes that have suffered disaster-related cash flow problems and need funds for working capital to recover from the disaster’s adverse economic impact. This loan in combination with a property loss loan cannot exceed a total of $2 million. (Source: U.S. Small Business Administration.)
- Loans up to $500,000 for farmers, ranchers and aquaculture operators to cover production and property losses, excluding primary residence. (Source: Farm Service Agency, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.)
- Other relief programs: Crisis counseling for those traumatized by the disaster; income tax assistance for filing casualty losses; advisory assistance for legal, veterans benefits and social security matters.
As you can see, your potential benefits would include SBA disaster loans, disaster unemployment assistance, and even procuring a disaster loan from the Farm Service Agency. Many home contents insurance policies will not cover damages from hurricanes and other natural disasters, so these grants, disaster unemployment assistance payments, and loans can be a huge help to those in need! Especially when without them, you may have to resort to using pay day loans or other high-interest lending to make ends meet while you recover from disaster.
Who Is Eligible For Disaster Assistance?
According to the FEMA website, the President’s action makes federal funding available to affected individuals in Bergen, Essex, Morris, Passaic, and Somerset counties. As anyone living in New Jersey can tell, the list of eligible counties is incomplete, when compared to the damage done.
However, William L. Vogel who has been named as the Federal Coordinating Officer for Federal recovery operations in the affected area, stated that, “damage surveys are continuing in other areas, and additional counties may be designated for assistance after the assessments are fully completed.”
I would suggest that those who are in other counties check the FEMA website daily to see if their area has been added. It may help to keep in touch with your local elected officials as well, so they can advise you regarding your current options, and so that they are better equipped to speak out on your behalf.
***Update: President Obama just visited New Jersey and extended disaster assistance to the following counties: Hunterdon, Middlesex, Monmouth, Sussex, Warren, Atlantic, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Salem, Gloucester ***
Burlington, Hudson, Mercer, Ocean and Union counties still have a chance to be declared eligible by the time full damage assessments are concluded.
How To Apply For Disaster Assistance:
The Federal Government has set up a website that allows people to apply online for disaster recovery assistance: http://www.disasterassistance.gov
Instead of forcing you to bounce back and forth between the various Federal agencies involved, this website consolidates the application process across several Federal agencies, including FEMA and the Small Business Administration.
Ultimately, you will have to complete less forms than normal, the application process will move faster, and you will also be able to check the progress of your application online.
If you want to apply by phone rather than the Internet, you can call 1-800-621-FEMA (1-800-621-3362). Disaster assistance applicants, who have a speech disability or hearing loss and use TTY, should call 1-800-462-7585 directly; for those who use 711 or Video Relay Service (VRS), call 1-800-621-3362.
Be prepared to provide basic information about yourself (name, permanent address, phone number), insurance coverage and any other information in order to expedite the process.
Other Things To Consider
By checking the FEMA website, you can see what other states/counties are eligible for this type of aid. Also, be aware that anyone who suspects price gouging during this time is encourage to report it to the state (just follow the instructions in the link provided).
Although it would have been impossible for any individual to stop the flood waters from overtaking them, by following the information including in this hurricane preparedness guide, you can give your family the best chance to be healthy and safe during and after a natural disaster.
Even if you have not suffered damage yourself, or you do not live in New Jersey, please pass this information along to anyone who might be in the need of disaster assistance.
photo courtesy of Buzz Feed