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FEMA Offers Assistance to Individuals and Communities Recovering From Flooding

Flood recovery will be a long and complex process for many Nebraskans. One resource is FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. They are reaching out to people and towns affected by floods in a variety of ways. 

Last Friday FEMA opened a Disaster Recovery Center in Valley, Nebraska. There, people can apply for FEMA assistance to help recover flood losses.

Darrell Habisch is a FEMA spokesperson. He says the center gives an option for people who may not want to apply for a grant online or over the phone.

“A lot of people are very comfortable, or only comfortable looking eye to eye talking about their financial situations. Talking about, you know, their particular situation,” Habisch said.

In the first few hours of being open Friday the center had already seen about a hundred people come through. A second Disaster Recovery Center opened Saturday in Bellevue.

On Friday, residents of nine Nebraska counties were eligible to apply for help from FEMA. Habisch said that number may expand as FEMA evaluates damage in more counties. Six additional counties were added on Monday morning.

“We go in teams with the local emergency managers and the state and the counties because they know where the damage is. Whether it's a public assistance, meaning roads and bridges, public infrastructure, things like that, they know where the damage is. We accompany them to assist in determining the amount of damage,” Habisch said.

The process is similar for individual assistance and is based on the number of homes damaged in a given area.

Habisch explains FEMA assistance is meant to supplement insurance claims, not cover all the damage done by a disaster like flooding.

“You know the average grant that FEMA provides to individual homeowners and or renters, applicants, ranges between three and four thousand dollars. That's not gonna put you back into a pre-disaster condition. It's not gonna rebuild your home. It's not gonna buy you a new car,” Habisch said.

If insurance and FEMA assistance aren't enough to cover flood damage, the Disaster Recovery Center presents another option: a low-interest loan from the Small Business Administration.

Roger Busch is public information officer for the Disaster Loan Program at the Small Business Administration, or SBA. He says though it may be confusing, the SBA can help people who are not small business owners. FEMA sends individuals to them.

“They will refer homeowners and renters to the SBA to get our low-interest rate program for homeowners and renters to replace or repair any damage they had to their home, personal property, which includes automobiles, et cetera,” Busch said.

The SBA can, of course, also help small business owners affected by flooding in Nebraska.

“There's two different parts to the program. They could have physical damage if they own the property and the equipment and everything inside the business. Some businesses might be on the other side of the river or the town losing, economic injury, revenue's not coming in. So there's a kind of a two-in-one type loan,” Busch said.

For agricultural producers, the assistance may have to come from multiple places.

“We can do their personal damage that they had to their home and vehicles and furniture, stuff like that, but the actual business portion for farmers is turned over to the USDA, the Department of Agriculture. So we request them to check in with the local farm bureau and the USDA to take care of the business portion,” Busch said.

To help inform people about the assistance options available to them, FEMA sends teams out into the community. That includes members of FEMA Corps, a program for college-aged people.

Irene Allen is a FEMA Corps member.

“We're going out to different residences in this specific county, and we have various teams in different counties as well, and we go to the houses and we make sure they're registered and see if they need any assistance at the moment or if they have any questions, and if they do we can either refer them here, to the DRC, disaster recovery center, or we give them the FEMA hotline number. So we just make sure that they have the assistance that they need,” Allen said.

FEMA also assists public entities like cities and tribal governments.

Elizabeth Kellar is director of public policy for the International City/County Management Association.

“I think that the number one thing that we would encourage local communities to do is to have a disaster recovery coordinator. One of the things that you run into when you've been hit with one of these major events is you have to deal with the immediate but you also have to start thinking about the long term,” Kellar said.

Kellar's advice for communities is similar to what other officials have offered to individuals.

“We tell everybody who's involved in disasters to make sure they document everything because our federal government partners expect and require excellent financial documentation,” Kellar said.

Individuals can bring their financial documentation to a disaster recovery center or register for assistance by phone or online.

Copyright 2019 Nebraska Public Media