90 days later, Part VII: The limitations of FEMA assistance
By Melinda Harrell
Published in News on January 11, 2017 10:03 AM
Federal Emergency Management Agency Assistant External Affairs Officer Mike Wade said the help that can be provided through the agency can only go but so far.
"We can never make them whole again," Wade said.
"We want to make the home safe, sanitary and secure. That doesn't mean we are going to buy carpet for the floor. We want to make sure you can live in it safely, with heat, electricity and running water. We give assistance to make their homes liveable while (survivors) are making repairs."
FEMA intergovernmental affairs specialist Manuel Portela echoed the assertion of Wade, but also said the Small Business Administration could help survivors in the grey area where more repairs are necessary.
"FEMA can get you back to basic sanitary assistance," Portela said.
"FEMA is not an insurance, it gets you back to the basics. You will not get your home back as previous to the storm. It is back to the basic sanitary conditions. Some of the survivors that are registered are referred to (the Small Business Administration). SBA offers the survivors a loan. If you are registered with SBA, you may come back to the FEMA grants program. If you don't have the means to pay back your loan it bounces back to the FEMA grants program."
Wade said if the survivors find themselves in a situation that their homes are not liveable while repairs are conducted, then FEMA will provide transitional sheltering assistance, which include money for hotels. There were 11 counties in the state approved for transitional sheltering assistance with Wayne County being one of them.
Wade said the transitional housing is only a temporary fix until the survivors are able to find another place to live.
"Mobile homes are our last option," Wade said.
"That is a very long-term process to find a place to put the unit that meets local ordinances and flood plain issues, as mobile homes cannot be put in a flood plain."
Wade said much of the guidelines FEMA follows are made at a local level, including the flood plain determinations and elevation requirements.
The Hazard Mitigation Program, also called the buy-out program, is not run by FEMA, Wade said.
"The buy-outs are part of the Hazard Mitigation Program," Wade said.
"It is a state managed program. It is funded by FEMA at 75 percent and 25 percent from the state and local levels, or it depends on how the state wants to do it. The state gets a certain amount of money, and the state sets priorities on how they want to spend that hazard mitigation, and buy outs are one of those programs, and they are considering that. That is it in a nutshell. A community has to ask the state for a grant through hazard mitigation process. They submit grant application, the state prioritizes and then they submit priorities to regional office. We take a look at those projects and make sure they meet the environmental and historical standards, if approved the state can start the process."
Wade said the buy-out program is strictly voluntary and the homeowners can change their minds at any time in the process.
The timetable for the whole process, from application to purchase is between one to three years, Wade said.
"It is not immediate. If they go through the program, they can back out at any time. Once property becomes property of federal government or state, it becomes green space forever and nothing can ever be built on that property again," he said
In Wayne County the interest in the Hazard Mitigation Program is high.
County planner Chip Crumpler said there 250 applications for buy-outs in differing stages of the process.
He said in the county there are 90 filed applications with 20 filed from residents in Seven Springs.
The remaining 140 applications have been submitted by Goldsboro residents.
"We submit these applications on behalf of the citizens, and the state qualifies or disqualifies them," Crumpler said.
City Manager Scott Stevens said he plans to recommend home buyouts through the Hazard Mitigation Program, when funding is approved.
"The ultimate goal, at least from my perspective as a city manager and recommending to our community and our city council, would be that we buy as many homes as we can buy so they're not there next time because the flood plain is just that -- it is a floodplain," Stevens said. "It will flood again and not having people in harm's way is better, although emotional, for the people that have to make that choice."
The deadline to register for FEMA assistance has been extended to Jan. 23.
Earlier this week, FEMA approved the state's request to extend the registration, which was originally slated for Monday.
Meanwhile, the FEMA Disaster Recovery Center at W.A. Foster closed on Friday.
A press release announcing the deadline extension did not mention reopening any of the disaster recovery centers that have closed including Wayne County.
To register, go online at DisasterAssistance.gov or 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.
With the FEMA deadline extension the SBA also followed suit. The loan application deadline for the SBA is also Jan. 23, now.
Anyone in the declared counties in North Carolina with physical damages caused by Hurricane Matthew that occurred between Oct. 4 and 24, 2016, should apply for the disaster recovery loan program.
The deadline extension will help to ensure that businesses and residents with uninsured losses have the additional time they need to submit their SBA disaster loan applications.
Applicants may apply online using the Electronic Loan Application on SBA's website at https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela.
Disaster loan information and application forms may also be obtained by calling the SBA's Customer Service Center at 800-659-2955 (800-877-8339 for the deaf and hard-of-hearing) or by sending an email to email@example.com. Loan applications can be downloaded from www.sba.gov/disaster.