Insurance News

FEMA grants coming to uninsured homeowners

Posted on: September 30, 2009

Federal officials say they will soon begin sending money to people in 17 counties who lost homes and businesses to last week?s floods.

In addition, federal officials added another five counties to a list of nine that are eligible to receive grants to repair roads and other damaged infrastructures.

In a third move, state labor officials said workers in eight Georgia counties are eligible for disaster unemployment assistance.

Representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency have promised grants running into the thousands of dollars for uninsured, or underinsured, homeowners.

Mark Neveau, a deputy federal coordinating officer with FEMA, said officials hope to begin inspections of homes soon and added that the process is quick. It takes maybe a day or two for the government to transfer funds electronically after a structure is approved by a damage assessor, he said.

FEMA is stepping in because of the federal disaster designation given to metro Atlanta by President Barack Obama last week.

?The disaster you have experienced is unprecedented,? Neveau said.

Officials had no tally of the number of structures damaged, but said they?d received about 7,000 applications for help.

Buzz Weiss, spokesman for the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, said the number is ?a moving target? right now. ?We know that there are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of structures,? he said, adding that it?ll probably take a week to finish the count and that ?it?s going to be a tremendous number.?

?We?re going to see high numbers because areas that were hit were in areas that we did not believe to be flood plain,? Weiss said, ?and those people understandably did not have flood insurance.?

Officials are urging owners of flood-damaged property to register with FEMA immediately.

Neveau said each applicant can qualify for up to $30,300 in grants, though, he added, the average is much lower, around $5,000. Homeowners may have better luck with the U.S. Small Business Administration, which gives out home loans of as much as $200,000, plus $40,000 to repair or replace personal property. The loans are at about half the commercial lending rate.

Hundreds of federal officials will fan out across metro Atlanta to visit properties of those who have applied for aid. People will also be able to go to local disaster recovery centers to fill out paperwork.

State labor officials said workers in eight Georgia counties can collect disaster unemployment assistance. The program helps workers whose primary income was lost due to flooding. Unlike state unemployment insurance, it provides benefits to entrepreneurs, farmers, loggers and others who don?t typically qualify for help.

Some people were rendered homeless by the storms.

Kathy Fletcher, who helps coordinate volunteers with the Cobb Emergency Management Agency, estimated that more than 2,000 volunteers came out last weekend in Austell and other hard-hit areas. Many churches supplied volunteers throughout the weekend, with the Mormons from North Georgia mustering about 1,000 workers on Sunday alone.

They delivered water, food and cleaning supplies and got to work, tearing out soggy sheetrock and insulation.

?It?s been very refreshing to see how people have stepped up to help friends and strangers,? Fletcher said. ?It restores your faith in human nature.?

Some worry that the storm will expose another side of human nature: hopelessness. Connie Stokes, a county commissioner in DeKalb, led a task force that studied how to curb foreclosures stemming from the economic crisis. She fears that the recent destruction will cause some uninsured homeowners to abandon their damaged properties rather than go further into debt to fix them. That would expand the county?s already sizable problem with foreclosures.

?We know that the value of properties throughout DeKalb County has dropped substantially,? Stokes said, adding that some storm victims will ask themselves: ?Why would I get a loan and increase what I owe on my house when I already owe more than it?s worth??

Some people are feeling like victims all over again, as they are forced to leave their homes unsecured, with valuables inside ? and out.

Brenda Roberts, who lives in Stone Mill Manor in south DeKalb, said she and her neighbors have had personal property taken after they left things outside their houses to dry.

Roberts is missing some rugs, and her neighbors lost their washing and drying machines, which they?d left in their driveway.

Roberts, who is staying with a friend, happened to drive through her neighborhood when she saw a pickup truck toting her vacuum cleaner and lawn mower. The items were returned when she asked for them, but the rugs are still missing.

?They said, ?We come through here on trash day to pick up things,? and I told them, ?Today isn?t trash day,?? Roberts said. ?Now, I?m really nervous about leaving in the evening,? she said. ?I?m just afraid that someone?s going to go inside and take what I have left.?

GETTING HELP

» The Federal Emergency Management Agency will give grants of as much as $30,300 to owners of uninsured, or underinsured, houses that were damaged in the floods (though the average grant is more like $5,000). Register your home by calling 1-800-621-3362 or by going online to http://www.disasterassistance.gov.

» The U.S. Small Business Administration will be giving out home loans of as much as $200,000 to cover repairs, plus $40,000 to repair or replace personal property. The loans are at about half the commercial lending rate. Businesses can get up to $2 million. And an application with the SBA is mandatory to receive some types of FEMA funding. To apply, contact the SBA?s disaster center at 1-800-659-2955 or at http://www.sba.gov.

» Workers in eight Georgia counties ? Cobb, Carroll, Chattooga, Cherokee, Douglas, Paulding, Stephens and Walker ? may be eligible for disaster unemployment assistance. The program helps workers whose primary income was lost due to flooding. Unlike state unemployment insurance, it provides benefits to entrepreneurs, farmers, loggers and others who don?t typically qualify for help. Potentially eligible workers should call the Georgia Department of Labor?s toll-free customer service line at 1-877-709-8185 or visit http://www.dol.state.ga.us. The deadline to apply is Oct. 26, said State Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond.

» In Cobb County, officials set up a one-stop center for help at the old Threadmill Mall at 5000 Austell-Powder Springs Road. GEMA, FEMA, the Red Cross and other agencies are there. It is open from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m.

» In DeKalb County, County Commissioner Lee May will host a special emergency meeting Wednesday night. Representatives from FEMA, GEMA and the Red Cross will provide assistance beginning at 6 p.m. at the Lou Walker Senior Center at 2538 Panola Road in Lithonia. DeKalb hopes to have its own disaster recovery center open by then, as well. For emergency management help in the meantime, call 678-406-7850 or 678-406-7853.

HELPING YOURSELF

» The Georgia Public Service Commission advises homeowners to take steps to protect credit ratings and rights if they?ve lost their home, or source of income, to flooding. Contact utilities and communications providers to explain why service must be discontinued and ask what to do next.

» When hiring a contractor, check with the secretary of state to see if a company has adequate licenses. A law that took effect last year requires that contractors prove they have met minimum professional standards to get a license. Verify residential/general contractor licenses at https://secure.sos.state.ga.us/myverification. Search by contractor name or county. Never pay for all the work until the project is done.

GIVING HELP

» Organizations such as the Metro Atlanta Area Command of Salvation Army and Red Cross are asking for money. Food banks, such as Hosea Feed the Hungry and Homeless and the Atlanta Community Food Bank, are calling for non-perishable items. The United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta has an easy number ? 2-1-1 ? for people who want to donate their money or time.

» In Cobb County, Cobb Disaster Recovery, a volunteer conglomerate of faith-based organizations, nonprofits, businesses, local government and civic groups, needs volunteers for cleanup efforts. The UPS Store at 50 Barrett Parkway, Suite 3005, near I-75 is also collecting school supplies and dried or canned food.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

© 2009 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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