Cleveland and Bradley County residents who suffered property or structural damage from the EF-2 tornado and heavy storms that whipped through our community March 2 should contact FEMA immediately unless you have already done so.
Those who have not taken action — regardless of the reason — are reminded the FEMA Disaster Recovery Center operating in downtown Cleveland at the old First Baptist Church Annex at 340 Church St. remains open to assist storm victims until further notice. Hours are Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday, 1 to 6 p.m.
By late last week, some 650 storm victims within the affected 10-county area had registered their damages. FEMA had doled out more than $514,000 in grants to help storm survivors pay for temporary housing and other needs. Yet, the federal agency is concerned many victims are not registering with the agency nor reporting their damage, potentially because of misunderstandings or confusion over the guidelines.
A few examples might shed some light:
1. Some are unfamiliar with the FEMA registration process. Registering is simple. Those with storm losses should call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362). Applicants who are deaf or hearing-impaired can use TTY at 1-800-462-7585. The phone lines are open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week until further notice. Online registration is available at www.DisasterAssistance.gov or through a smartphone or tablet at m.fema.gov. Registration by either method should take 15 to 30 minutes.
2. Some do not understand the full scope of available assistance. FEMA grants can cover rental costs, home repairs and other disaster-related expenses. Applicants who don’t need FEMA’s direct assistance can still be referred to partners like the U.S. Small Business Administration, the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army. FEMA can also refer survivors for help with disaster unemployment, crisis counseling and legal aid.
3. Some are not aware how the SBA can help. SBA provides low-interest disaster loans for homeowners, renters and businesses at affordable terms. Survivors are under no obligation to accept SBA loans if they are offered. However, completing SBA paperwork can open doors to other types of FEMA grants. The SBA website is www.sba.gov. Questions may be directed to the SBA Customer Service Center at 1-800-659-2955 or 1-800-877-8339 for the deaf or hearing-impaired.
4. Some property owners feel private insurance will cover their damages or are awaiting an insurance settlement. Although true, FEMA or SBA assistance may be available to fill any unmet gaps in insurance coverage.
5. Some survivors may simply be too busy cleaning up debris or making home repairs. Again, this may be true, but registering with FEMA by phone or online should take only 15 to 30 minutes.
6. Some fear FEMA assistance might count against other federal benefits. Completely untrue. FEMA grants are not counted as income and do not affect Social Security, Medicaid, welfare, SNAP or Aid to Families with Dependent Children.
7. Some believe they are ineligible for FEMA assistance due to income levels or too little damage. Income level has no impact and only FEMA staff can determine if damage qualifies for assistance. You won’t know unless you register.
Do not let uncertainties deter action. Register now and contact FEMA at the Cleveland DRC.