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FEMA deadline is June 30th with 141 registered, only nine SBA applications

More than two months have passed since a deadly tornado ripped its way through Johnson County, claiming two lives and accumulating hundreds of thousands of dollars in property damage. In the weeks following the storm, numerous aid groups were on the ground providing meals, cutting and cleaning brush and fallen trees, and helping those who had lost their homes.
A week later, Governor Bill Haslam included Johnson County in the state of emergency covering several counties in East Tennessee. This declaration paved the way for disaster assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), who has been actively working within the county for the past month. Currently, more than $3.9 million dollars of federal aid has been approved across 17 east Tennessee counties. 5,484 people have registered with FEMA in this area, with Johnson County having 141 to apply.
FEMA representatives are encouraging anyone who had any damage from the April 27th storm to register with their agency. The process takes only 15 minutes and could help make up any shortfalls resulting from inadequate insurance coverage. FEMA aid cannot duplicate insurance payments so representatives must have the applicant’s current insurance information. However, FEMA also advises that storm victims should not wait to apply until the insurance claims come through, but rather should register immediately for aid.
A disaster assistance center has been set up in the Johnson County Chamber of Commerce Park in Doe Valley and anyone with storm damage is encouraged to stop by to speak with FEMA representatives who can help them get registered and answer any questions. The center will only remain in the county until June 30th, so applying as soon as possible is strongly advised.
FEMA’s primary assistance involves housing assistance grants, which have three primary purposes. The grants can be used for basic housing repairs, short-term rental assistance, and reimbursement of hotel/motel expenses for those who lost or were forced from their homes after the storm.
The registration process is very quick and simple and there are three methods to apply. Anyone with damages can apply online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov and over the phone by calling 1-800-621-3362. Anyone wishing to receive further assistance with the application process can also visit the disaster center at the chamber park in Doe Valley. Basic information needed for the application includes the address of the damaged home or apartment, names of people living in the household, description of the disaster damages, insurance information, Social Security number, a telephone number where you can be reached, and an address where you can get mail.
Once the application is received FEMA will attempt three times to call and set up an appointment for a property inspection. If the applicant cannot be contacted they must call 1-800-621-3362 to set up the appointment on their own. Typically the inspector can come out to the property within three days to assess the damage. It is a good idea to point out anything that might have occurred from the storm, as well as to take pictures of the damage and keep receipts from repairs. After the inspector has made the assessment a payment can typically be made within ten days. Anyone with damage is encouraged to apply, which includes renters as well as homeowners and business owners.
FEMA also offers other needs assistant grants which cover a variety of disaster related needs but which can only be issued after completing an application with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). The SBA is another federal program that provides disaster assistance in the form of low interest loans. After registering with FEMA the SBA will issue a separate application in the mail. This will determine if the applicant is eligible for a low interest loan.
If the SBA determines that the applicant is not financially able to repay a loan the application will be denied. However, a denial simply means that the applicant is then eligible for FEMA other need assistance grants, which do not have to be repaid. These grants are in place to help replace essential personal property and meet medical, dental, funeral, transportation and other serious disaster related needs not covered by insurance or other federal, state, and charitable aid programs.
Currently the SBA has issued 90 applications in Johnson County, 67 of them being residential and 23 businesses. Of those 90 applications, only nine have been mailed back, with three being approved for loans totaling $351,600. It is extremely important for applicants to fill out and mail back the SBA application. Applicants do not have to accept the loans but further assistance from FEMA cannot be granted until the SBA has received the application and issued a denial. The deadline for SBA applications is June 30th.
Joe Cantu, a public affairs specialist with the SBA, expressed concern that only nine applications have been filled out in Johnson County. He says his experience has been that all too often people rely on their insurance to cover their damages. Then, after it is too late to register with SBA, they find out their insurance coverage was not adequate. He stresses the importance of applying before the end of June no matter where one is currently with their insurance process.
The people of Johnson County are well known for their fierce independence and strong sense of community and support. Many people have not applied for aid simply because they feel there are other people in greater need than they are. However, according to Susan Soloman, FEMA’s public information officer, “Applying for assistance will not take away or add to anyone else’s disaster assistance grants.”
If there is a doubt whether or not you have successfully registered with FEMA please contact the disaster center at the chamber park or call the 1-800 number listed above. Whether you have insurance or not, anyone with damage is asked to apply. The county was given a hard blow by the tornado, but through the dedication and help of workers with agencies like FEMA and the SBA there is hope. The few minutes it takes to register could be much larger steps on the road to recovery.