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Deadline to register for FEMA and SBA hurricane help Dec. 16
Grants and loans available in 10 Georgia counties
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Within the 10-county declared disaster area, Georgia residents who experienced damage to their homes and businesses as a result of Hurricane Matthew have until Dec. 16 to register with FEMA and be eligible for FEMA grants and Small Business Administration disaster loans.

Representatives of both the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the SBA spoke to the Statesboro Herald this week to get the word out about the deadline and clear up misconceptions. Despite the Small Business Administration’s name, the SBA handles disaster loans to homeowners, renters and private nonprofit organizations such as churches, as well as to businesses of all sizes, said Demetria Clark, an SBA Office of Disaster Assistance public affairs specialist.

“The difference is just that FEMA does the grants and we do the loans, but they’re for everybody,” she said.

However, before applying for an SBA physical disaster loan, residents must first register with FEMA, Clark said.

“The deadline for Physical Damage loans is approaching fast – December 16, 2016,” she wrote in an email. “As of this week, SBA has approved over $4 million in loan funds for Hurricane Matthew survivors in Georgia.”

For residents who qualify for SBA physical disaster home loans, the annual interest is less than 2 percent if they have no credit available elsewhere and a little over 3 percent for those with other credit available.

Unlike the SBA loans, FEMA grants do not have to be repaid, but are meant only for expenses necessary to return people to a safe and sanitary home environment.

 

Insurance a factor

The extent to which property is insured factors into how much FEMA grant money a resident can get, and whether a resident or business qualifies for credit elsewhere determines the interest rate on SBA physical disaster loans.

Clark said one of her co-workers describes the process as like a three-legged stool: “You check your insurance, you check with FEMA and then SBA.”

Sometimes people are uncertain whether they want to take a loan, but qualifying by the deadline will not force applicants to make an immediate decision, Clark said. Loans can be put on hold for up to six months.

Additionally, applying for an SBA loan ensures that residents will remain eligible for further help, such as FEMA’s Other Needs Assistance, as this becomes available, Clark said. Other Needs Assistance is for things such as clean-up items, clothing replacement, even medical and funeral costs.

How to register

Clark and Gary Petty, a FEMA media relations specialist, emphasized that only three weeks are left to apply for disaster help by registering with FEMA. Two ways to do this are online at DisasterAssistance.gov and by calling the FEMA helpline 1-800-621-3362. Both the website and the telephone helpline allow individuals to choose English or Spanish.

At this point, the only disaster recovery centers open are one at Savannah Technical College, 5717 White Bluff Rd., Savannah, and another in Brunswick. The centers remain a good resource for people who, after registering, receive a FEMA determination letter and want to talk face-to-face about questions and concerns, Petty said.

FEMA also has an app, available from DisasterAssistance.gov, Google Play and the Apple Store, that smartphone users can download to check on their assistance requests.

 

FEMA grants

Addressing a concern the newspaper heard from local people, Perry confirmed that FEMA grants do not cover the removal of trees that fell without damaging homes.

“The intent of FEMA is to allow people to live in a safe, sanitary environment, and while a tree being down in their yard is a nuisance, it still doesn’t prevent them from living in their house,” Petty said.

The role of private insurance has also prompted questions. FEMA encourages people whose homes were uninsured to apply for individual insurance, as well as those who had insurance.

“The first line is the homeowner’s insurance, so you’ve got the deductible to deal with, and then if there’s a gap in what the insurance coverage is that does not allow survivors to move back into their home, that’s where the federal grant money comes in, to enable those individuals to move back into a safe, sanitary environment,” Petty said.

 

Loan details

While the grants cover those essential expenses, SBA loans are meant to help residents more fully recover, or to “make them whole,” he said.

Homeowners may be eligible for loans up to $200,000 to repair or replace disaster-damaged real estate, and up to $40,000 to repair or replace damaged personal property. Renters can also be eligible for the personal property loan, Clark said.

Interest rates on SBA home disaster loans are 1.563 percent for borrowers with no other credit available, and 3.125 percent for borrowers who could get a loan elsewhere. The business physical damage loan interest rate is 4 percent with no other credit, or 6.26 with other credit available.

For nonprofit organizations, the rate is 2.625 percent regardless of other credit.

Besides Physical Damage loans, the Office of Disaster Assistance has Economic Injury loans available. These are working capital loans to help businesses, including farms, and nonprofit organizations meet financial obligations they could not meet as a result of the storm. The deadline to apply for these is later, July 17, with interest rates of 4 percent for businesses and 2.625 percent for nonprofit entities.

For a business, the maximum of both types of loans combined is $2 million.

Monday, Nov. 28, is the deadline for residents of Evans, Liberty and Long counties to apply for special unemployment assistance to farmers, loggers, self-employed persons and those who work on commission for lost work due to the hurricane.

For all forms of assistance, losses must have occurred Oct. 4-15 from Hurricane Matthew. To qualify with FEMA, a resident must have a Social Security number or permanent residency card (green card). Or the Social Security number of a child who lives in the household may be used, according to information Petty provided.

Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.

 

 

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