A lot of people in New York and New Jersey are only now becoming aware of the full extent of the damage brought on by Super Storm Sandy.
After nearly two weeks working just to get electric power on and gasoline for cars, the difficult job of rebuilding is about to begin.
There is help from various sources, first and foremost from FEMA, the Federal Emergency Relief Agency whose primary responsibility it is to be available to provide assistance in just such a disaster. Many people are only remotely aware of what FEMA does, and if you live in the battered Middle Atlantic region, you’re now finding out first hand.
What is FEMA and how does it work?
FEMA, or the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is a federal agency first established in 1978. It exists to deal with natural disasters and other major emergencies that exceed the resources of local government agencies. They are well known – and sometimes well criticized – for they’re very visible participation in Hurricanes Andrew and Katrina as well as other disasters.
The agency is the ultimate fallback when disasters strike and local areas and agencies are calling for greater help. FEMA not only provides direct monetary assistance to local governments, businesses and individuals, but they also provide technical help by providing expertise and by acting as a point of contact for other resources that may be available in a disaster stricken region.
Before FEMA can get involved in a local emergency, the state governor must first declare a state of emergency and formally request agency involvement by the President of the United States.
Though the agency has been subject to criticism for delayed, inadequate or poorly coordinated disaster responses, they remain the best source of emergency assistance available in the widest number of disasters.
Different types of assistance from FEMA
The site also helps you locate over 70 forms of assistance from 17 different federal agencies, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Social Security Administration.
For example, if your business was destroyed by the storm, you can get low interest loans through the SBA to “to repair or replace damaged property not covered by insurance, and to provide working capital.
If you’ve lost your job due to the disaster, you can get unemployment benefits through the Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) program, which will also help you become re-employed.
You can also get housing assistance if your residence was destroyed or is uninhabitable.
There’s an agency to deal with just about any disaster related problem, and FEMA is the place to get started finding it.
Different ways to apply for FEMA Assistance
There are several ways to apply for FEMA assistance:
Online. DisasterAssistance.gov. Once there you fill out a questionnaire that will help the site direct you to the proper aid sources. You can then apply for assistance and also check on the status of your application at a later date.
By phone. You can call (800) 621-3362, or for people with hearing or speech disabilities, TTY (800) 462-7585, where you’ll be directed as to which way to proceed.
You can find the main FEMA website at http://fema.gov/ .
In person. After Superstorm Sandy struck FEMA set up locations where those affected could go in person to file foe assistance.
Other sources of help
Apart from FEMA, there may be other sources of assistance that people can get in the event of disasters such as Super Storm Sandy and other declared emergencies.
Your insurance company
This should always be your first contact following any type of disaster that results in damage to your property. Your coverage is established primarily for this purpose, and FEMA typically steps in only for the portions of damage that are not covered by your insurance policies.
This can get complicated however. In some situations, the homeowners insurance companies are refusing to cover water related damage under the provision that their policies don’t provide flood insurance. This kind of problem is why you will have to look beyond your insurance to FEMA and other sources.
Family and friends who weren‘t affected
Family and friends who live in affected areas will be unable to offer much assistance, having many of the same problems you do. But family and friends who don’t live in the immediate area could be a good source of help.
Even if you’ve never asked for assistance from your own social circle, a natural disaster is just about the best time. Everyone needs help in this kind of disaster, and they would likely expect the same from you if they were in the trouble spot.
Churches and synagogues in other areas
In the wake of Sandy, houses of worship across the country are taking up collections to help the victims. If you know someone who is a member of a congregation that is collecting think about asking if they can inquire about some form of direct assistance.
State, county and municipal agencies
Local government agencies will be strained trying to help with the needs of so many people. But they do have departments established specifically to help disaster victims, often funded in some way by FEMA. In fact, FEMA might even direct you to them since local government agencies often act as conduits for FEMA assistance.
If you’ve been hit hard by Sandy, check with FEMA – and any other potential sources of assistance – to get the help you need.