As local government officials deal with the aftermath of the historic flooding in Iowa they will be dealing closely and often with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). An understanding of the basic relief programs available may help direct those officials to better access the most helpful programs and provide better assistance to homeowners, business owners, and people in need of help.
Individual and Homeowner Disaster Assistance Programs
FEMA provides the following most commonly used programs for the benefit of people who have suffered damage or loss to their home as a result of a disaster:
1. Housing Needs:
a. Temporary Housing – provides limited help for a limited period of time,
b. Repair – provides resources above and beyond insurance to repair damage done to a primary residence and which involves main structural components of the home, water and sewer systems, and utilities, and
c. Replacement – provides resources above and beyond insurance to replace a home destroyed by the disaster.
FEMA provides other assistance to individuals that includes reimbursement or payment for a variety of expenses directly related to the disaster. These payments range from medical and dental expenses for injuries caused by the disaster to paying for clothes or a replacement vehicle. These “Other than Housing Needs” expenses will only be paid if the expenses exceed what insurance or an SBA loan would cover or in the event the individual is uninsured or not eligible for an SBA loan.
In addition to the foregoing assistance programs FEMA and the federal government will provide crisis counseling for those in need of mental health services, disaster unemployment assistance for those not covered by other unemployment compensation programs (the self-employed, farmers, migrant/seasonal workers, or those who do not have sufficient quarters to qualify), free legal advice and counseling, and expedited refunds on refunds from tax losses carried back to the previous year linked to disaster damage.
Local officials should make sure they have a full understanding of who by law can claim benefits from FEMA. Only someone who is or who lives with someone who is a citizen of the United States, a non-citizen national, or a qualified alien qualify. After the homeowner, business owner, or citizen requests help an inspection of their home or business takes place. Within 10 days of that inspection a decision will be communicated about the request for help.
Grants and Assistance Programs for Governments
FEMA provides a number of programs for local governments faced with recovery efforts. The two most important programs used by local governments immediately following a disaster are the Public Assistance Grant Program and the Community Disaster Loan Program. Local government is broadly defined to include cities, counties, regional government organizations, and certain nonprofits that maintain public venues (libraries, zoos, hospital, museums, etc.) Public officials would be advised to be well informed about both of these programs as soon as possible after a disaster has hit.
Public Assistance Grant Program
FEMA conducts a Preliminary Damage Assessment (PDA) very quickly after they come into the disaster area. The PDA attempts to document the impact and magnitude of the disaster on individuals, businesses and on public property. The PDA forms the basis of the disaster declarations that are key to obtaining financial assistance. All programs for local governments and businesses, and individuals require a presidential declaration.
If the conditions are satisfied local governments may under certain conditions receive Immediate Needs Funding to pay for debris removal and emergency protective measures. Qualified expenses include overtime payroll, equipment costs, and other contract costs. Help is limited to 50% of the PDA estimate of emergency work and the work must be completed within 60 days. This assistance does not cover insured expenses.
Local governments that qualify for assistance under the Public Assistance Grant Program may also request expedited payment of up to 50% of the resources that are likely to be provided by the federal government.
A key provision of the Public Assistance Grant Program centers on the need for a local government to make a request for assistance. If a request is not made at the time of the Briefing that takes place shortly after FEMA is on site, the request for assistance must then be made within 30 days of the presidential disaster declaration for the area. After the request is made FEMA works with the applicant to make sure the process is handled properly. Another key deadline is that an applicant has 60 days from the first substantive meeting with FEMA to record all damaged facilities on a Project Worksheet.
Projects are divided into large and small projects, although small projects can be combined to make a large project. Currently a small project is defined as any project that will cost $59,700. The project designation carries different reporting and audit requirements. Small projects are funded on estimated costs while large projects are funded in documented actual costs.
Local governments are given some latitude for substituting alternative projects. Resources can be redirected to a new facility but the assistance is reduced. Local governments should be clear about these rules before making decisions about what to repair and what to substitute.
Finally, there is a distinction between expenses. If reimbursement or help is sought for critical services (those providing power, water, sewer, fire protection, emergency medical, communications, or education) there is no need to go to SBA for a loan first. However, if the services are non- critical(most of those done by nonprofits) the local government will be required to seek SBA assistance first. SBA assistance are loans and not grants so the difference between the two types of expenses is important.
Word of Caution
One word of caution – as reconstruction work begins local governments must be on the look out for fly by night outfits that will take advantage of local citizens by promising work and not performing it. Often there are contractor shortages and people put money down expecting work to be done immediately and the contractor is never seen again. Also, as local governments contract work for their own needs they need to be aware that if they expect reimbursement from FEMA the contractors are required to keep very detailed records. Evidence that the contractor is aware of the requirements and capable of meeting those requirements is key and should be provided as part of any RFP process.
Community Disaster Loan Program
The Community Disaster Loan Program provides funds to local governments that suffer substantial tax revenue and other revenue losses as a result of a disaster. Loans under this program are limited to no more than 25% of the annual operating budget of the local government for the fiscal year in which the disaster occurs up to a maximum of $5 million. As with the Public Assistance Grant Program a presidential disaster declaration for the area is a pre-condition for eligibility.
FEMA Contact Information
The best contact number for FEMA to access information is 1-800-621-3362 or on the web at www.fema.gov .