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By Rose Hoban
After three months of working with thousands of people in eastern North Carolina affected by Hurricane Matthew, representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency say time to sign up to get help is coming to a close.
FEMA counselors and disaster relief specialists will stop accepting new registrations for aid at midnight Monday, Jan. 23, said spokesman Mike Wade.
“As of close of business [Tuesday] there were a total of 80,275 households who had applied to FEMA for assistance,” Wade said. He said the agency had given out more than $89 million in assistance to individuals.
Wade said that people can still apply for assistance over the weekend. The first step is to call a registration number, or get online to register. Once a person registers, a FEMA inspector will come out to a person’s home and verify that damage has occurred.
“We want them to stay in their home if at all possible, we may provide them money for immediate repairs to make their home safe, sanitary and secure,” Wade said. “That’s our goal.”
Filling in the gaps
In the foyer of the Duplin County Department of Social Services in Kenansville this past week, three FEMA workers buttonholed people as they went in and out for appointments, asking if they needed disaster assistance.
“There’s a lot of people who didn’t know to register,” said Juan Ramirez, a FEMA worker. He said more than half of the people they’d encountered were Latino. “Many of them did not know that they could register or didn’t know much about FEMA.”
Ramirez’ co-worker Joy Shannon said she approached several dozen people each day, but only had conversations and gave instructions and literature to about half those people.
“We approach them to find out do they have any damages and do they need any help,” she said. “and then they come and we individually counsel them.”
“We’re filling an important gap, trying to get the folks who are falling between the cracks,” said FEMA worker Karl Fredericks. “Maybe they’ve been denied and given up hope. We’ve been able to make some contacts and get them on the right track.”
The workers had piles of printed information to hand out, everything from manuals on mitigation and retrofitting instructions, to how to repair sheet rock and insulation, and the importance of flood insurance. Shannon said that all their printed materials are available online, but frequently, in a flood, people have lost access to the internet.
They even helped one man who lost his dentures during the storm.
“He tripped during the hurricane and I think he had his partial [denture] in his hand, and it got smashed,” Shannon said.
“We needed some information from his dentist, that’s what the gap was,” Ramirez said.
Better late than never
Wade said that it’s important for people to register on the FEMA website, as well as with the Small Business Administration. FEMA’s assistance tops out at $33,200. Above that, the SBA can give people low interest loans to cover their losses.
He stressed that people should go ahead and fill out the application for an SBA loan, even if they don’t want to take the loan.
“Even if they’re approved for a loan with SBA, they don’t have to accept it, but at least they’ve gone through the process to see if they’re eligible,” Wade said. He said there are other ways to get help even if a person doesn’t accept an SBA loan, but he stressed the first step is registering on the FEMA website.
Glen Cavenaugh’s step-mother’s place didn’t flood, but rain got in through the roof, damaging the walls and floors during the storm.
“[The FEMA agent] was telling me what they could do, get her a low interest loan, I didn’t know,” he said. His step-mother is still staying with friends but if the family could get her house repaired, she would move back in.
“She applied for it a couple of days ago, and they sent an adjuster to look at it already,” Cavenaugh said.
A tree limb fell on Jimmy Byrd’s trailer during the storm, and it took days to get someone out to help get it off the roof. Now the damaged roof allows rain in and has begun to damage the walls and floor in his bathroom. But Byrd, who is developmentally disabled, doesn’t read or write and couldn’t use the internet to register.
“It’s leaking, and if it doesn’t get fixed, the trailer will be destroyed,” said Byrd’s sister-in-law, Emma Byrd. “He doesn’t have the money to fix it because he’s disabled.”
The two sat with the counselors for about a half hour, registering and getting information. Emma Byrd said she didn’t know if their request would be fulfilled.
“You comfort yourself that you’ve tried, done all you could,” she said.
Correction: This story originally said FEMA would stop work in Eastern NC at midnight Monday. FEMA will stop taking registrations for assistance at that time, but a FEMA spokesperson stressed the agency will continue to work in the region.
Disaster assistance may include grants to help pay for temporary housing, emergency home repairs to make your home habitable, and for other disaster-related needs.
FEMA assistance is nontaxable and will not affect eligibility for Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare or other federal benefits.
How to register:
Online at DisasterAssistance.gov.
Call the FEMA Helpline at 800-621-3362 for voice, 711 and Video Relay Service. If you are deaf, hard of hearing or have a speech disability and use a TTY, call 800-462-7585.
Download the FEMA Mobile App and apply.
Hyde County: Government Center 30 Oyster Creek Road Swan Quarter, NC 27885
Bertie County: Windsor Community Building 201 South Queen Street Windsor, NC 27983
Bladen County: Bladen County Library 111 N. Cypress Street Elizabethtown, NC 28337
Duplin County: Dept. of Social Services 423 North Main Street Kenansville, NC 28349
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