published Monday, August 8th, 2011

FEMA OKs fewer grants in tri-state area

Tim Mitchell adds outdoor faucets to the  new home of Marvin and Willie Quinn in Apison. A FEMA grant is helping to replace their house.
Tim Mitchell adds outdoor faucets to the new home of Marvin and Willie Quinn in Apison. A FEMA grant is helping to replace their house.
Photo by Jake Daniels.
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BY THE NUMBERS

• 18 percent: Portion of storm victims in the tri-state region who registered with FEMA and received some money.

• $4,175: The average assistance grant for temporary housing awarded in Tennessee.

• $1,974: The average assistance grant for repairs to houses, vehicles and replacing essential personal property that was damaged or destroyed.

• 50 percent: Portion of storm victims in Rhea County who applied for FEMA aid and were approved.

Source: Federal Emergency Management Agency


TO GET HELP

• To register with FEMA, call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or visit www.DisasterAssistance.gov. The hearing impaired can call TTY 800-462-7585. The toll-free helpline operates daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. local time.

• To apply for a federal loan from the Small Business Administration, call 800-659-2955 or visit www.sba.gov.

• Tuesday is the final day to register.

As federal disaster registration wraps up in areas hit by the April storms, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama have some of the lowest numbers of grant applications approved compared with other states in the region affected by the storms.

However, Federal Emergency Management Agency officials said comparing numbers among different states and different types of disasters is not an accurate comparison and each community differs in how many people receive assistance.

Tuesday is the final deadline to register with FEMA and the U.S. Small Business Administration for disaster relief in Tennessee. The individual assistance grants provide money for housing, personal property, medical expenses and funeral expenses, among other needs.

Registration in Alabama and Georgia already has closed.

So far, FEMA has awarded more than $7.4 million in grants in Tennessee, while Georgia has received $4.7 million. FEMA had not provided its Alabama numbers by late Friday.

In all three states, about 18 percent of the people who registered with FEMA for grants received some money, officials said. The money was used for temporary housing, repairs to houses or vehicles or to replace personal belongings.

North Carolina's approval rate is 20 percent; Mississippi's 24 percent; Missouri's 38 percent; and Kentucky's 49 percent, according to numbers FEMA gave The Birmingham News last week.

"These are communities that are different and personal resources that are different," said Mary Hudak, spokeswoman for FEMA's regional office that covers eight states, including Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. "These [approval] numbers are just one part of the picture."

In the Chattanooga area, the percentage numbers vary widely from county to county, with Hamilton County storm victims receiving 16 percent of their requests while Bledsoe County had almost 34 percent approved and Rhea County had a 50 percent approval rate.

Approval rates for individual Alabama and Georgia counties were not available.

A variety of reasons could factor into a grant application being denied, including having insurance coverage or having damage that does not meet FEMA requirements for eligibility, Hudak said.

"FEMA is simply a helping hand after a disaster," she said.

Appeals pending

Anyone whose application is denied can file a written appeal within 60 days of receiving a denial letter. FEMA officials also stressed that the percentage of grants approved may change as people appeal those decisions.

Some applications are pending and others may be approved in the appeals process, officials said.

Hudak said FEMA encourages everyone to register, whatever their needs or whether they have insurance because FEMA also serves as a gateway to other resources such as loans or community resources.

FEMA officials urged Tennessee storm victims who haven't taken the first step toward federal aid to apply before Tuesday's deadline. Other residents and business owners may not have returned their Small Business Administration loan applications, which also are due Tuesday.

Homeowners, business owners and renters with storm-damaged property are eligible for relief, even if they are covered by insurance. Even those who already have made repairs still may be eligible for reimbursement for their expenses, officials said.

The average assistance grant for temporary housing awarded in Tennessee is $4,175. The average assistance grant for repairs to houses, vehicles and replacing essential personal property that was damaged or destroyed in this disaster came to $1,974.

For many tornado victims in the tri-state area, FEMA funds were a helping hand in the days and weeks after the storm. For others, especially those who received denial letters, the experience has not been so positive.

No one knows the sometimes-fraught-with-frustration process better than Ron and Linda Moore. The April tornado tore the roof off their three-bedroom, blue-frame house on Dalton Pike in Cleveland, Tenn., and threw it across the neighbors' trees. Most of the couple's belongings were rain-soaked and badly damaged.

The couple had insurance, but because of a change in policy they were not aware of, it did not cover their belongings.

They immediately registered with FEMA, beginning a long process of denial letters, phone calls and visits to the disaster center.

"I'd say we got like five denial letters," Linda Moore said Friday. "It was pretty crazy. It was almost like a full-time job, and you felt like you were treading water, not getting anywhere."

Moore refused to give up. In between her job, caring for her three teenage sons and trying to set up a temporary home in a friend's basement, she challenged each denial letter.

Finally, after nearly two months of phone calls -- and getting the office of U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., involved -- FEMA paid the Moores about $8,200 for temporary housing and furniture. Moore was able to buy mattresses for their sons and some living room furniture.

The Moores also have received some of their insurance money, and this week they worked to gut their home and start rebuilding. They hope to move back in by the end of November.

"Since I'm a little more removed from the whole ordeal, I know at the time they [FEMA representatives] were all burdened and overwhelmed," Moore said. "I'm very thankful for the help we got. But I can't imagine being an elderly person dealing with that process. You'd give up."

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about Mariann Martin...

Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...

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