Unrealistic expectations are leading to a lot of questions, and sometimes anger, about the disaster assistance available and how the programs work, said officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“A lot of survivors think they’ll get thousands and thousands of dollars,” said Alberto Pillot, FEMA’s media information manager. “They think replacement value. But it’s not. It’s immediate needs … What do you need right now to get into safe and sanitary shelter? There are programs available that can get closer back to whole.”
FEMA gives out tax-free grants of up to $33,000, regardless of income levels, as part of the Individuals and Households Program, or IHP.
Victims from catastrophic flooding from the storm that began the night of Aug. 11, living in one of the 20 parishes declared a disaster by President Barack Obama, can get money to help pay for temporary housing, home repairs, medical and dental needs, new clothing, furnishings, appliances and a number of other expenses.
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Counts are not complete but the federal government estimates about 160,000 properties were flooded.
Gov. John Bel Edwards and the Louisiana congressional delegation are preparing a bill to ask Congress to approve money over and above what is set aside for disasters. The supplemental money would go to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which would send the money to Louisiana in form of grants for storm victims to rebuild.
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In the meantime, however, the basic federal aids available for people without insurance are loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration and the IHP.
Survivors must apply with FEMA for disaster assistance online or over the phone.
Their damaged residence will be inspected.
From the inspector’s report of specific damages, the family structure and a predetermined amount for a minimal replacement, FEMA calculates a grant.
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For instance, if a family of four had damage to four bedrooms, one which is used as a guest room and the other is for a child who is away at college, leaving husband and a wife and one child using two bedrooms, FEMA would give enough to replace the bedding for three people. It would be up to the applicant to go out and purchase the beds — three singles or a single bed and double bed.
Depending on the damage, FEMA also will replace chairs, couches, tables and lamps. The thing to remember, Pillot said, is that the replacement is minimal. The money won’t be enough to replace a ruined leather couch and love seat set. “You may not get a leather couch, but you’ll have something to sit on, something to get you going,” Pillot said.
FEMA will buy what’s necessary: washing machines, window air-conditioning units, televisions and refrigerators are on the list. Dishwashers are not, at least for the young and the healthy.
“It’s a matter of what is necessary to get back up and running,” Pillot said.
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If one vehicle was flooded and the other was not, then chances are no money will be set aside for a second car, he said.
The letter outlines basically what the money is for: this much for repairs, that much for appliances.
“You’ll have to come back and explain why it was spent. You have to justify why you need more,” Pillot said.
If the survivor spends the money dedicated to hiring an electrician to buy a stainless steel sub-zero refrigerator, rather than something much simpler inexpensive, chances are very good that FEMA will not give more money for the electrician.
“What you do with the grant and how you choose to spend the money, well, be wise,” Pillot said.