CHARLESTON — When tornadoes, severe storms and flooding struck in parts of West Virginia in late February and early March, residents in disaster-declared counties became eligible for federal assistance. Yet some people who suffered losses and damage in the wake of the disasters have failed to seek help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“Disasters are relatively rare, and many people are unaware of how things work,” said FEMA’s Federal Coordinating Officer Deanne Criswell. “Often people who would qualify for assistance miss out because they are mistaken or misinformed.”
Many simply don’t know that FEMA offers help to homeowners and renters who have suffered damage to their homes.
Others think that since they already cleaned up and made whatever repairs were needed that they can’t apply for assistance. Still others are worried that accepting money from FEMA might have an impact on their Social Security checks or the help would be taxed as income by the IRS. In addition, some may feel hesitant in accepting taxpayer money because “my neighbor needs it more than I do.”
Sometimes disaster survivors assume that when they collect their insurance claims, even if the amount they receive fell short of covering the damage sustained, they aren’t eligible for any federal help.
But the most common reason that people fail to register with FEMA and apply for assistance is the assumption that having alerted local, county or state officials about the damages and other losses, that they automatically are registered with FEMA.
“It’s perfectly logical to think that once you talk to any emergency official, the process has started,” Criswell said. “But that is incorrect. What you must do is call the FEMA registration line at 800-621-3362. You can also register online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov, and all the information you need is right there.”
For individuals with hearing or speech impairments, FEMA has a TTY line at 800-462-7585. The lines are open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. ET, and operators are on duty who speak several languages, including Spanish. With a web-enabled mobile device, log onto m.fema.gov.
“We want to make sure those who are eligible for assistance get the help they need,” Criswell said.
Help is also available for businesses of any size and private nonprofits in the form of low-interest loans from the Small Business Administration.
Homeowners and renters have 60 days to apply for federal assistance. The deadlines for West Virginia are May 14 for Lincoln, Marion and Wayne counties and May 20 for Logan County.