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More Than $30 Million Already Spent In EKy Cleanup

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Three weeks ago, eastern Kentucky was hit by devastating floods. The Federal Emergency Management Authority and the Small Business Administration are on the ground trying to help restore the hard hit region. At the same time, West Virginia has experienced one of the wettest summers on record and that has brought additional flooding with it.

News Director Eric Douglas spoke with Patrick Boland from FEMA and Laurie Dana from the SBA about what is going on in the region.

Douglas: Tell me what's going on in eastern Kentucky right now. 

Boland: We're really in the recovery phase now from the flooding disaster July 28 and 29. FEMA has 800 people on the ground; we've got nine disaster recovery centers set up so that people can visit them in five of the affected counties. So we're really doing everything we can to reach out to people. We have Disaster Survivor Assistance Teams composed of four to five individuals who are walking neighborhoods and trying to reach people who have not been able to have access or have been unable to get out of their homes. So we're really focusing really hard on getting to everybody we can.

Dana: We're here to help the folks that had flooding in their homes and businesses. Our heart goes out to everybody. And we really want to help make a difference and help them have a long term speedy recovery.

Douglas: FEMA is there for disaster relief, that sort of thing. Laurie, you're with the SBA. You're more looking at kind of getting businesses back up and running. And so how does that all work?

Dana: It's homeowners and renters, businesses of all sizes and nonprofits. FEMA is here to get people safe and sanitary living conditions. SBA is here for long term recovery, to build back their homes, replace the contents of their homes, businesses. Even if they didn't have physical damage, if they had financial losses, there's assistance for them as well as being able to make repairs to their buildings and replace their assets, anything that was damaged by the floods. So it's really a big partnership with FEMA and the SBA to help both short term recovery, as well as long term.

Boland: That’s a great way to put it. It's a two part harmony, FEMA does disaster assistance to people. SBA is really capable of providing people the funding to do the longer term repairs, and to be able to afford it. They have longer term and greater benefits in terms of the most advantageous loans You can get up to $37,900 in assistance total, across all different types of assistance. And oftentimes, people with property losses have well exceeded that. In this case, no flood insurance for many, many of the people in this area. So they really need to have access to low interest loans at longer terms that will help them to rebuild their homes.

Dana: And it really is a very low interest rate; as low as 2.18 percent with terms up to 30 years, which helps make it a little more affordable to recover and for replacing the contents of your home. That's a lot cheaper than the interest rate on a credit card.

Homeowners and renters can borrow up to $40,000 to replace the contents of their home and that includes automobiles, and then can borrow up to $200,000 to make their homes liveable. In addition, they can add up to 20 percent for mitigation, for things like sump pumps and retaining walls to help prevent further damage next time. If there's ever a flood, God forbid there's ever another flood, businesses can borrow up to $2 million to make repairs to their buildings, replace their inventory and assets. And as I mentioned before, businesses can also apply for working capital to help cover those financial losses.

Douglas: One of the rumbles I’ve heard is people complaining about FEMA: FEMA is not acting fast enough, FEMA denying claims. What is the process and why do people believe they're being unfairly denied claims?

Boland: There is some misunderstanding out there. The process of applying for assistance requires providing documentation, identification, proof of residency. And in this situation, because of the size of the losses of some people, the documentation is not complete. When we cannot provide complete assistance immediately to people, we try to provide assistance for important needs, like rental assistance, other needs assistance for clothing, etc. And as we progress along here, we're going to get more people's claims completed. We've already distributed over $30 million in assistance to survivors in this particular disaster already. So it's going to take time to work through the process.

Dana: Folks don't have to wait for their insurance to settle to apply for a disaster loan. The faster they apply, the faster that SBA can help them. So we just really encourage people to go into the disaster recovery centers, talk to FEMA, talk to the SBA representatives, and get started on their recovery.

Douglas: What does somebody need to bring with them? What kind of documentation? Some of those people may have lost all their documentation in the flood. So how does all that work?

Boland: Get to a FEMA Disaster Recovery Center. At the centers we've established, the state of Kentucky is there to provide people replacement documents at no charge immediately. One is your proof of residency, right? An occupancy for your home that you live in. So you need government documents to do that. And these disaster recovery centers have that service right in there for people to take care of it at the time they visit.

Dana: The first step two is to register with FEMA. And FEMA refers you to the SBA to complete a disaster loan. We really encourage folks to do that, as part of that whole process, the eligibility for some FEMA assistance and other program assistance, as well as for disaster loans.

Douglas: There's been some significant flooding here in Charleston. I don't think it's reached the level of federal disaster assistance. But how does that process work? What are what's the process for elevating a local regional emergency into a federal emergency?

Boland: The governor of West Virginia has declared a state disaster for those two counties in particular. The governor can then turn around and request from the federal government to the president that a national disaster be declared. At that point a FEMA will go in and do an evaluation of the disaster, the scope on it, then the president would determine to issue the federal disaster and ?

Douglas: What are the criteria? Is it based on property damage? How is that determined?

Boland: Clearly, there's individual losses. We can see homes and property. There's also public assistance which is for damaged public property, roads and bridges and government buildings, and also nonprofits that have experienced losses for services of one kind or another. Those are the two categories: public assistance and individual assistance. And if those losses meet a certain threshold set by the government statutorily, at that point the federal government can declare national disaster.

Douglas: How long do you anticipate being in Eastern Kentucky?

Boland: FEMA is going to be here for quite some time. It's usually years before a disaster recovery from this type of event takes place. So on the ground, we have disaster teams out, you know, in the field operating right now, that's going to continue for months. The scope of it changes over time as the needs and the process changes. But the organization will be here and SBA will be with us throughout that entire period. So, there is a deadline to apply for assistance. It's usually 60 days post-disaster. We will announce that deadline. It'll be publicized.

Dana: We really encourage people to get their applications, register with FEMA and get their applications in as soon as possible to get started on that recovery. Don't wait for a deadline. The sooner you get those applications in, the sooner we can help you. You can go to the disaster recovery center for FEMA and SBA and go to a business recovery center for SBA then apply online sba.gov. You can also call 800-659-2955 and have an application mailed to you.

Douglas: Laurie, you mentioned that even businesses outside of the disaster area who feel like they've lost income revenue because of the disaster can also apply for SBA assistance?

Dana: If you're in West Virginia in the contiguous counties next to Kentucky, you can apply for working capital to help pay the bills, you would have been able to pay if the flooding hadn't happened. So any of the contiguous counties around the declared counties are eligible.

Editor’s note: According to the governor’s office, Gov. Jim Justice has not determined whether to apply for federal disaster assistance in Kanawha and Fayette counties, pending more information. 

News Director, edouglas@wvpublic.org, 304-556-4946, @AppalachiaEric

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