Stew Lilker’s

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FEMA/SBA Disaster Recovery Centers Still Going Strong In FL: "If you need help, you must register."

The banners in front of the DRC in Columbia County show the SBA is also inside to help.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – The FEMA/SBA Disaster Recovery Relief Centers (DRC) are still going strong in Florida as a result of Tropical Storm Debby, which dumped record amounts of rain and is being called by some a 500 year event. Three of the DRCs have closed and FEMA representatives have told the Observer that the centers will stay open as long as folks are coming in. The byword for FEMA/SBA reps is, "You must register to receive assistance."

Small Business Administration Public Affairs Specialist, Richard Daigle explained, "Through the SBA there are home loans and business loans available. It is typical in most disasters that home loans far outweigh business loans. Through July 18th we have approved 26 home loans and zero business loans, which typically take longer to review. The SBA also makes loans to renters."

"Our key message in the disaster is to make sure that people understand that we do home loans."

Mr. Daigle repeated the recurrent theme coming from the folks at FEMA/SBA:

It is important that folks get into the system. People seeking relief do not have to wait for their insurance companies to make a decision to register with the SBA.

Some people may say they're going to wait to see what their insurance does. We strongly encourage them to get into our system as soon as possible. We don't want to see people missing the deadline because they are not in our system.

When we receive an application we usually approve it within 10 days. The SBA does the approval. We get the application. We send someone out to inspect the damages.

All of our assistance is in the form of a direct federal loan. It is not through a bank. It is for damages not covered by insurance; not covered by FEMA grants; or other sources.

Our big message is please apply for the loan. The applicant can then decide whether or not to use it. If they don't apply and they find later that they need it, we can't help them.

Observer: Then the whole thing is to get in an application?

Mr. Daigle:  That's right -- a completed application. We want to help you and without a completed application we can't do anything.

Observer:  If one is not in a flood zone, can they get a loan?

Mr. Daigle:  A person doesn't have to be in a flood zone. If a flood declaration has been declared, you can get a loan. Once you receive the loan, you will be required to maintain flood insurance.

Observer:  How exactly does the loan process work?

Mr. Daigle:  We review the information. We approve the loan. Once the loan is approved we do a closing. The money is electronically deposited in your bank account, usually two days after the loan closing. Then you begin the repairs and show us receipts. As you show us receipts for the construction that's related to disaster recovery we disperse additional sums of money. You have to save receipts. We check to make sure that the work has been done."

Observer:  Do they mail in the receipts?

Mr. Daigle:  The loan recipient is assigned a loan counselor. There is a relationship there. We assure that they are doing disaster related things with the loan money. We verify because it is taxpayer dollars and we want to make sure the money is used the way that it is intended.

Once again – The application

Mr. Daigle:  Again, the big message is we want people to apply. We don't want them to disqualify themselves. The key is to get your application in. We will approve you if we can. If we can't approve you, you can go back to FEMA where you may get additional grant money. He continued:

We don't want to leave anyone out. When someone applies for an SBA loan the first thing we ask them for is a FEMA number.

A person wants to put themselves in the position where they get the maximum amount of money from the federal government, which is what we want them to do -- we want to get the dollars in their hands. They need to register with FEMA first and then they make sure they've done their SBA loan application as well. Once they've done these two things, they are in a good position to move forward.

FEMA representative Anne Waggoner joined the conversation:

"The key is you have to register with FEMA first. FEMA gets your insurance information; your social security number and other details. Then FEMA sees what grant money you are qualified for. Some of it has no regard to income."

"The main objective of FEMA is to get you in a safe, sanitary functional place to live -- 30 days for renters and 60 days for homeowners. During that time you go through the rest of the process. FEMA sends you a package that everyone needs to read. In that package is the SBA loan application. You have to fill out the loan application even if you have no credit."

By the Numbers:

As of the close of business on July 18, $13,148,062.82 has been approved in Florida for housing assistance and other needs assistance: $11,668,921.82 for housing assistance and $1,479,140.93 for other needs assistance.

There were 17 counties in Florida designated for individual assistance and there were 29 for public assistance.

The four top counties in registrations are Pasco w/1764; Suwannee w/1646; Columbia w/1090; and Hernando w/1082.

In DRC disaster recovery visits, Suwannee County leads the way with 93 visits a day and a total of 1710 since their center was opened. Columbia County follows with 53 visits a day and a total of 504. Hernando County follows with 55 visits a day and a cumulative total of 438 visits.

There are 46 inspectors in the field who have been issued 7340 inspection orders and have completed 6719, with an average turnaround time of 1 day, 22 hours.

The SBA has sent out 4253 home loan applications; 1029 business loan applications; and have received 414 home loan applications and 30 business applications.

Observer:  FEMA is really at the top of the pyramid. Folks have to go to you first.

Ms. Waggoner, "Absolutely, FEMA's whole designation is to take care of people in times of disaster. Emergency management -- that's what we do. SBA comes in as a complement to help people. We all work together -- we work with the counties; we work with the state; we work with the agencies such as Red Cross; we work with the first responders.

Final Comments

As the discussion with FEMA's Waggoner concluded she said, "Please encourage people to call the 800 number (800-621-3362). We can't help them if they don't register. Even if they don't see any damage now, they should register. If it shows up later and is a result of this disaster, we will be able to help them."

As this article was being wrapped up, the Observer heard from the SBA's Daigle who reported that the SBA as of Friday morning had loaned $1.3 million.

Mr. Daigle said, "Money is going out for those who return the applications.

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