|Disasters officials often stress on the need to prevent rumors and false information among disaster hit people
During the first few weeks following a disaster, survivors, still dazed by the trauma, may be easily misled by half-truths and rumors. Common misconceptions can lead to slow recovery and possibly prevent some eligible survivors from getting help. Stresses and uncertainties caused by the tornadoes that stormed across Mississippi in April and May make it easy for rumors and false stories to breed and expand.
Disaster officials stress that misinformation is the last thing people need after undergoing such losses. While state and federal programs are not designed to make storm victims whole, they can provide the kinds of assistance found in good information that helps survivors get on their feet to restore their lives. Officials of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency and Federal Emergency Management Agency pointed to two easy ways to begin the application process and get the correct information.
FEMA can be contacted on its toll-free number, 800-621-FEMA (3362) or TTY 800-462-7585 for the hearing- and speech-impaired. Both numbers are available from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. local time, seven days a week until further notice. Multilingual operators are also available to answer calls. Residents with Internet access have the option to register on the agency's website where valuable recovery information is also available. The status of an application also may be tracked here.
Following are some clarifications for common misconceptions about disaster assistance:
- I have insurance. I hear there still may be other help available to me.
True. Insurance is your main source for money to put your life back in order after a disaster. But there are some things that insurance may not cover. That is where federal disaster programs may be able to help.
- I have to wait for my insurance adjuster before I apply for disaster assistance.
False.You do not have to wait for an agent or adjuster's inspection before applying for assistance or beginning repairs needed to make your house safe, sanitary and functional. However, if you have insurance, you must file an insurance claim, find out what your policy covers, and be sure to keep papers and receipts for any work. If you still have unmet disaster-related needs, you may be considered for FEMA assistance. To avoid a duplication of benefits, please submit your insurance settlement or denial documents to FEMA along with an appeal letter.
- I already repaired my home. It is too late to apply.
False. You may be eligible for FEMA assistance for expenses not covered by your insurance.
I have to make a reservation and go to a Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) to apply for assistance.
FEMA provides economic assistance if expenses are not covered by insurance
False. There are two ways to apply for assistance. You may call FEMA's toll-free number at 800-621-FEMA (3362) or TTY 800-462-7585 from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. local time, seven days a week. Individuals with Internet access can apply on the agency's website at www.disasterassistance.gov. Disaster Recovery Centers (DRC) are designed to provide additional information or assistance. No appointment is necessary and you may visit any DRC even if it is not located in your town or county. U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) representatives are also available to assist with low-interest loan applications for homeowners and renters, as well as businesses of all sizes.
- I got help from the American Red Cross, but I still need to apply to FEMA if I need assistance.
True. FEMA coordinates a number of programs to help disaster victims. These programs are different from the emergency food, clothing and shelter initially provided by the American Red Cross, Salvation Army and other voluntary agencies. Registration with the Red Cross or other voluntary agency is notthe same as applying with FEMA. For federal and state disaster assistance, you must apply by calling the special toll-free application number 800-621-FEMA (3362) or TTY 800-462-7585 for those with speech or hearing impairment.
- I have to be poor to qualify for disaster assistance.
False. Federal and state disaster assistance programs may be available to those who suffered damage, regardless of income. The programs are not "welfare." The kinds of help provided depend on the applicant's circumstances and unmet disaster-related needs.
- I have to be turned down by my bank before I can apply for a disaster loan.
False. SBA, which handles low-interest disaster loans, has its own criteria for determining each loan applicant's eligibility. If you do not qualify for a loan, you may be eligible for other assistance, but it is necessary to go through the SBA application process first.
- I can apply for a loan from the SBA even if I'm not a business owner.
True. Renters, homeowners and private non-profit organizations may be eligible for low-interest loans for home or personal property losses for "uninsured" or "underinsured" disaster-related losses. Don't let the name fool you. In a presidential declaration, the SBA is the primary source of federal financial assistance.
- I don't really want a loan, but I've heard I need to fill out the SBA application when I receive it.
True. If you do not qualify for a loan, you may be considered for other forms of assistance, like the Other Needs Assistance grant program that is designed to help meet serious, disaster-related needs. However, you must complete and return the SBA loan application. If the loan application is not returned you may not be eligible for further disaster assistance.
Proper disaster management in the past have shown positive results
- I rent an apartment. I can't get help to replace my damaged property.
False. A renter may also qualify for an SBA low-interest disaster loan or a grant from FEMA to replace personal property. One type of grant may cover temporary housing needs. Another type of grant may be available to an eligible individual or families with serious disaster-related needs and expenses that are not covered by insurance or other disaster assistance programs.
- I have applied. What happens next?
After you apply, FEMA will mail you a copy of your application and a copy of "Help After a Disaster: Applicant's Guide to the Individuals and Households Program," which will answer many of your questions. This useful publication explains how FEMA's disaster assistance program works; and describes additional kinds of help you may qualify for from other federal, state and voluntary agencies. If your home or its contents are damaged and you are uninsured or underinsured, an inspector may contact you within 10 days after you apply to schedule a time to meet you at your damaged home. All inspectors carry a photo ID that shows they are affiliated with the U.S. government. If you receive an SBA Disaster Loan application in the mail, you must complete and return the application to SBA to be considered for a loan and to continue the referral and eligibility process.
- I need to check the status of my case.
Status can be checked at www.disasterassistance.gov or call the FEMA Helpline at 800-621- FEMA (3362) or (TTY) 800-462-7585 for the hearing- or speech-impaired.
- I have to be a legal U.S. resident to receive Individual Assistance.
A person must be a US citizen in order to get assistance from FEMA
Yes. To be considered for federal assistance from FEMA you must be a U.S. citizen or a non-citizen national alien. A qualified alien generally includes individuals who are lawful permanent residents (possessing an alien registration receipt card) or those with legal status due to asylum, refugee, parole (admission into the U.S. for humanitarian purposes), withholding of deportation, or domestic violence. Check with an immigration expert if you have questions about your legal status.
- I am an undocumented immigrant, is there any assistance available?
Possibly. You may apply for Individual Assistance on behalf of your child who is a U.S. citizen or a qualified alien. Or another adult household member may qualify for household assistance if he or she is a documented immigrant. You may also be eligible under many different programs run by state and local agencies and voluntary agencies for various types of cash assistance. An undocumented immigrant may be eligible for short-term, non-cash emergency aid provided by FEMA.