State residents can still apply for aid with derecho damage
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - While hundreds of thousands of West Virginians were affected by the June 29 derecho and subsequent power outages, only a few thousand have applied for federal assistance for storm damages.
As of last Friday, only 3,566 households and businesses across the state had applied for Federal Emergency Management Agency individual assistance grants, agency spokesman Frank Blake said.
Residents in 20 counties can still apply for federal assistance to repair damage caused by the June 29 storm.
In addition to covering household damage, FEMA will also grant assistance to help replace damaged appliances and cover some necessary expenses caused by the storm.
Those necessary expenses include covering the cost of generators that had to be purchased to run medical equipment during the power outages that followed the storm.
Blake said that, as of Friday, FEMA had awarded over $1.2 million in housing assistance to state residents. Those grants were used primarily for rental assistance and grants for essential repairs to make a home safe, secure and functional, Blake said.
FEMA initially had denied individual assistance to state residents following the storm, but Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin appealed that decision.
On Sept. 19, FEMA announced it would grant individual disaster assistance to residents of Kanawha, Fayette, Raleigh and Nicholas counties - areas that were hit hardest by the storm.
FEMA expanded the aid to 16 others - Boone, Cabell, Clay, Greenbrier, Jackson, Lincoln, Mason, McDowell, Mercer, Mingo, Monroe, Pocahontas, Roane, Tyler, Webster and Wood counties - on Oct. 22.
FEMA typically allows a 60-day window from the time aid is extended before closing the application period. State businesses and residents have until Nov. 19 to apply for the aid.
Even though the 16 counties were announced more than a month after the aid was granted to the first four counties, Blake said the same deadline applies to all.
"The deadline of Nov. 19 is the deadline - no matter if you're in those 16 counties that were just added, or the first four that were added," he said.
So far, only a few hundred people have applied for aid in the 16 additional counties. Greenbrier County has the most with 130 applicants, followed by Clay at 89, Boone at 83 and McDowell at 68.
The fact that nearly three months passed before FEMA approved the aid is a factor. But Blake also said many people who can apply simply don't.
"A lot of people disqualify themselves," he said. "Some people are afraid that (the assistance) will impact their Social Security or some other program they receive through the federal government, or they say, 'Oh, Mrs. Smith down the road needs it more than I do.' "
He said that's the wrong attitude to have. Not only are they encouraging people to apply for aid, FEMA is encouraging those people to contact their relatives and friends in affected counties to remind them they can apply as well.
"And for heavens sake, don't wait," Blake said.
FEMA has been pushing public awareness through advertisements on radio, TV and print. Two-person teams are also being deployed throughout the 16 additional counties to attend meetings with local government and civic groups.
"We've been pushing registration even harder because we're afraid that people think they're registered when they really aren't," Blake said.
He said some people might have had FEMA damage assessment specialist visit their property as the agency collected information following the storm. He emphasized that visit was simply to gather information and did not register a person for assistance.
To register for assistance, individuals and businesses can either call 1-800-621-FEMA or online at www.disasterassistance.gov.
FEMA representatives have also set up what they call Disaster Recovery Centers, or DRCs, in Kanawha, Fayette, Raleigh or Fayette counties.
The Kanawha center is located at the South Charleston Recreation Center. The other three centers are located at the National Guard armories in each county.
The centers are open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays. They are also open some Saturdays, but those hours vary from week to week.
While staff at the centers can register people for assistance, the centers are focused on the steps that occur beyond the registration process - such as tracking the status of aid applications, answering homeowner questions and working out any issues with individual cases.
"It's kind of like a puzzle," said Sondra Penfold, manager of the South Charleston DRC location. "You've got all the pieces, and you try to put them together. And if there's a complication, we work them to help resolve the issue."
Fewer than 1,500 people had visited the four DRCs since they opened in September. The Kanawha location had served 317 residents through Thursday of last week.
Anyone from any county can visit the four centers, which are scheduled to close Nov. 7.
However, Blake said that date is not set it stone.
"That might be a date that moves around depending on the number of visits to the DRCs," he said. "If the traffic scales way down, it's hard to justify people being there . . . it's a fluid situation."
In addition to the DRCs, FEMA hazard mitigation officers are also at the Lowe's stores in Raleigh County and South Charleston to offer homeowners advice on how to avoid problems like mold and water leakages, which can occur following storms.
Contact writer Jared Hunt at email@example.com or 304-348-5148.