Recovery

After Irma: FEMA Opens Boynton Center as Florida Aid Tops $106 Million

Federal officials said they are trying to reach those who need help in a variety of ways, including response teams that go door to door in some areas.

by Charles Elmore, The Palm Beach Post, Fla. / September 21, 2017

(TNS) - Ava Varley of Boynton Beach said she stayed in her car at times while she was without power for a week, in part to get temporary air conditioning for her two-year-old child. Roof damage let in rain, she said as she waited to talk to representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and partner groups.

“I need help,” she said. “This is the first time we’ve seen FEMA.”

Beside her, Severina Mejia said her five foster children in Lake Worth were throwing up and showing other ill effects of the heat in a residence also without power for a week. Water damaged beds and other furniture, she said.

“I’m hoping at least to get beds for them to sleep on,” she said.

Irma’s eye made landfall in the Florida Keys and southwest Florida, but spawned dangerous winds, rain and tornadoes for hundreds of miles, raking almost the entire state.

Federal officials said they are trying to reach those who need help in a variety of ways, including response teams that go door to door in some areas.

“Some people are basically in a state of shock or trying to get things back together,” said Nate Custer, a public information officer for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Those affected by the storm need to keep in mind they must register to receive federal and state assistance, Custer said. They can do this online, and also can get help in person at a center such as the one that opened Wednesday at the Carolyn Sims Center at 225 NW 12th Ave. in Boynton Beach.

The center will be open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Sunday until further notice, officials said.

Businesses also can apply for help.

Generally, the aid is designed to provide emergency help not covered by insurance, and it can come in the form of grants or low-interest loans.

FEMA grants do not have to be repaid. The agency says its assistance is nontaxable and will not affect eligibility for Social Security, Medicaid or other federal benefits.

Survivors should register even if they have insurance, FEMA says. While the agency cannot duplicate insurance payments, underinsured applicants may receive help after their claims have been settled, officials said.

FEMA notes its temporary housing assistance and grants for public transportation expenses, medical and dental expenses, and funeral and burial expenses do not require individuals to apply for a Small Business Administration loan. However, applicants who receive SBA loan applications must submit them to be eligible for assistance that covers personal property, vehicle repair or replacement, and moving and storage expenses, officials said.

Potential help is out there for those who qualify, but so is misinformation about what is available, according to FEMA’s rumor control website.

Example: If you were without power for more than two days, are you eligible for $250? No, FEMA says.

Individual assistance is available in a wide array of counties, including Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River and Okeechboee.

But homes that sustained roof damage may be eligible only in certain counties for a program that puts blue tarps on them. Eligible counties include Palm Beach, Broward, Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Hendry, Highlands, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Pinellas, Polk, and Sarasota counties, officials said Wednesday.

Operation Blue Roof is managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on behalf of FEMA, the agency noted. The program sends licensed contractors out to homes to cover the damage with fiber-reinforced plastic sheeting until homeowners can arrange repairs.

The idea is to let people stay in their homes, instead of paying for temporary housing or hotels. It also helps protect the property from further damage. It is free to homeowners with homes that are primary residences or permanently occupied rental properties that have less than 50 percent structural damage, officials said. Vacation rental properties are not eligible and not all roof types qualify.

People seeking disaster unemployment assistance are being instructed to apply through the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity.

For those who are eligible for what is called transitional sheltering assistance, FEMA will pay for the cost to stay in certain hotels or motels for a limited time.

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©2017 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.)

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