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Flood survivors are quickly learning the limitations of help stemming from a federal disaster declaration.

Many were critical that the declaration was so long in coming, but now that representatives from the Federal Emergency Disaster Agency have been on the ground for a week, the reality is sinking in that federal payments will only be a small part of the recovery.

Deanna Frazier, a FEMA representative working in the region, said a total of 297 Buncombe residents registered for assistance, and as of Sept. 15 with 1,040 registrants in the disaster area. Payments of $386,991 had been approved.

Even though the disaster declaration included seven Western North Carolina counties, individual assistance is only available in Haywood, Buncombe and Transylvania counties.

Frazier explained the types of individual assistance to homeowners and renters:

• Up to two months of rental assistance can be paid if a home is deemed uninhabitable, but the duration can be reassessed;

• Grant money is available to help with some home repairs and help replace personal property up to a maximum of $36,000, but the average grant is between $3,000 and $5,000;

• A referral to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), where loan funding is available for up to $200,000, as well as $40,000 for home contents and up to $40,000 for disaster mitigation.

“FEMA cannot make you whole again,” Frazier said. “We are just one piece in the recovery puzzle. It takes FEMA, the Small Business Administration, volunteer agencies and community organizations pitching in to help people recover from the disaster.”

Federal agency funds are on top of what insurance will cover.

“We only cover the amount that is uninsured,” Frazier said. “We cannot duplicate what insurance provides.”

Terrell Perry works with SBA’s Office of Disaster Assistance, and is familiar with the FEMA process on a personal level.

As a survivor of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Perry was reluctant to apply for an SBA loan because she was a renter, not a business owner. It was only at the urging of a friend that she applied.

Now she realizes why individual loans are handled through the agency with the word “business” in the title.

“We step in during times of disaster to undergird the fabric of the community with homeownership, as well as business,” she said. “The loans are meant to help the community recover.”

The individual loans can be for up to 30 years with a fixed interest rate of 1.563%. Business loans are available for 2.855%. While the maximum loan is $200,000, the ultimate amount will be whatever the applicant qualifies for, although loan underwriting is not as strict as that of a financial institution, she added.

Perry shared her first experience with her now employer where she was actually turned down when she applied for help following Hurricane Katrina, something that underscores another lesson she shares with disaster survivors.

“When a person is declined, they can appeal and that triggers a process to reassess the financial picture,” she said. “I didn’t know that and didn’t appeal.”

If the appeal is denied, it opens the door for additional FEMA assistance, Perry added.

State Funding

A federal disaster declaration also triggers eligibility for state and local governments to be reimbursed for costs associated with restoring infrastructure such as roads, bridges, water and sewer systems, public buildings and debris removal.

At the very end of the process, the total amount of damages in the state are totaled for the region included in the disaster area, and the federal government provides 10% of that amount in mitigation dollars Frazier said.

These funds go back to the state, where choices can be made regarding assistance with individual buyouts for property owners with structures in the floodway; disaster mitigation efforts to try to stem losses in future disasters or upgrading other infrastructure.

Those dollars won’t be available until a year or more after the disaster event, she said.

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