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Tornado-impacted Ky. residents' deadline to apply for FEMA, SBA assistance approaching

Blake Farmer

With a little over a month having gone by since December’s deadly tornado outbreak across western and central Kentucky, the deadline to apply for governmental aid is coming up.

Both the Federal Emergency Management Administration and the Small Business Administration will stop accepting initial applications after Feb. 11 for the 16 counties declared federal disasters. This includes storm-impacted people in Barren, Caldwell, Christian, Fulton, Graves, Hart, Hickman, Hopkins, Logan, Lyon, Marion, Marshall, Muhlenberg, Ohio, Taylor and Warren counties.

FEMA media relations specialist La-Tanga Hopes spoke with WKMS this week about how the governmental agencies efforts in the region are proceeding. So far over 11,000 applications for FEMA aid have been received from the residents in the storm’s lengthy path.

“We are working through it. We always keep our heads down,” she said. “The fact that we just crested the $10 million mark tells us that we are making good investments in the community and putting forth good resources that can be utilized.”

Some people may not get an affirmative response to their FEMA application, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t eligible to receive aid. Sometimes it’s as simple as supplying the agency with more information.

“Typically the process is tedious,” Hopes said. “ What I always tell people is that the only thing that FEMA asks from the applicants and disaster survivors is time. So I would recommend you take your time with this process. Any time money is involved it’s going to take some time.”

People that disagree with FEMA’s response to their application have the right to appeal the decision two times. In order to do so, they should file an appeal within 30 days of receiving their designation letter. If you need help navigating the appeal process, Hopes recommends calling 1-800-621-3662, visiting or going to a FEMA disaster recovery center.

“We are only as successful as the numbers show that we have been able to get people eligible. Our goal is to help you work through that process,” Hopes said. “These people are specialists with the eligibility process. So if there’s something that you feel you’re not able to actuate and put into words to work towards eligibility, they can help you with that process.”

An appeal must be in writing, particularly in the form of a signed and dated letter, and it must explain the reason for the appeal. Hopes’ advice for people writing an appeal is to “think in your mind: ‘Why is my home not safe?’ Apply that information. ‘Why is my home not sanitary?’ Apply that information. ‘And why is my home not functional?’ That will help you work towards eligibility.”

Appeals can be mailed to the FEMA National Processing Service Center at P.O. Box 10055 in Hyattsville, Maryland. They can also be faxed to 1-800-827-8112.

Other aid services

Hopes also highlighted other aid programs being offered in the region by FEMA and the Small Business Administration.

FEMA’s free legal aid hotline has been up for a few weeks now. The service exists to provide legal advising services for people navigating the complicated insurance processes that follow a disaster, particularly people that don’t have insurance and people that are underinsured.

“Insurances pretty much know that people are not necessarily well versed when it comes to filing a claim and they may be slow in that process. These services may include the ability to be able to help people to secure FEMA assistance until their insurance kicks in,” Hopes said. “We may be able to help you with the legal ease as far as understanding what is available to you and maybe help you strategize in being able to submit information to your insurance company to help you through that process and maybe get them to work a bit more proficiently on your behalf.”

The hotline can be reached at 877-782-4219 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. CST Monday through Friday. You can leave a message, if you call outside of those hours.

“Ultimately our goal is to just make sure that people that need to file claims, that have repair contracts, that may need help with wills and even other legal documents, consumer protection issues, and assistance with landlord-tenant problems,” Hopes said. “That number is available to you. If there are threats of foreclosure, that can be quite intimidating.”

Mitigation teams that can help advise impacted homeowners on their rebuilds to help them rebuild stronger and greener have been stationed at home improvement stores in Mayfield and Bowling Green. Team members can be found at the Lowe’s in both Mayfield and Bowling Green. The Bowling Green Home Depot also has a team on-site.

“They can talk to you about durability. They can talk to you about sustainability. They can talk to you about reinforcement,” Hopes said. “(They’re there) to make sure that – should there ever be another tornado, straight-line wind, heavy rains or anything like that – you build back better and stronger. If you’re going to rebuild better, also rebuild smarter.”

Those team members work six days a week, every day but Wednesday.

The SBA has, so far, made over $20 million in loans available in the storm-impacted communities across Kentucky. These low interest loans are offered to businesses, nonprofit organizations, homeowners and renters in the declared disaster area. The agency also provides eligible businesses and nonprofits with working funds to help overcome the hardships of a disaster.

“I would tell anyone that if you’re interested in getting a loan that has to do with the disaster or may be subsequently involved in some other area, I would take the time to call SBA because there may be an opportunity for you to benefit as well,” Hopes added.

More information on all of these services is available on FEMA’s website.

A native of western Kentucky, Operle earned his bachelor's degree in integrated strategic communications from the University of Kentucky in 2014. Operle spent five years working for Paxton Media/The Paducah Sun as a reporter and editor. In addition to his work in the news industry, Operle is a passionate movie lover and concertgoer.
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