Tornado victims encouraged to go to Disaster Recovery Center if denied FEMA funds

Published 9:00 am Wednesday, February 15, 2023

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Now that initial FEMA decision letters have gone out, many residents affected by the Jan. 12 tornadoes are disappointed that their support requests have been denied.

Michelle Rose, FEMA Division Supervisor, spoke at the LaGrange City Council work session on Tuesday to answer the concerns of those impacted.

Rose said they have been going door-to-door to make sure that everyone affected by the storm gets the federal assistance that they are entitled to receive, but many will initially be denied due to incomplete registrations.

“A lot of survivors will get a denial letter from FEMA,” Rose said. “It could be because something very minor such as they didn’t have enough information about the insurance, an ID or something like that.”

All tornado survivors who receive a denial letter are encouraged to visit the Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) that has been set up inside the William J. Griggs Recreation Center.

FEMA workers at the DRC can explain the denial letter and tell survivors exactly what they need to make sure that they get the assistance they are entitled, Rose said.

“A lot of people get those letters and just say forget it. Maybe they don’t understand everything because of the government lingo,” Rose said. “That’s why it’s very important that we get people to register and if denied, go back to that DRC. We have staff there that are very knowledgeable, and they can explain the services that [survivors] are entitled to.”

Rose said that some people will be denied because their insurance already covers their loss. FEMA does not duplicate recovery funds.

The federal disaster assistance provided to those without insurance also may not be able to cover the entirety of a tornado victim’s loss.

“FEMA is not in the business of making everybody 100 percent whole. If you do not have insurance, they will provide assistance, but it’s on an individual basis,” Rose said.

“If everybody says I don’t need insurance because FEMA is going to bail me out, where would that leave the federal government as far as finances? FEMA is not trying to make you whole. That’s not the purpose of it,” Rose said.

Rose said FEMA does provide limited assistance to those who need it. The minimum is $2,000 and the maximum is $41,000, she said.

For those who cannot get enough assistance through FEMA, the US Small Business Administration (SBA) is also set up at the DRC to potentially provide low-interest loans to help repair homes and businesses affected by the storm.

SBA Public Affairs Specialist Vivian Santos-Rodriguez said the loans are interest and payment free for the first year and can be long-term loans, up to 30 years.

For individual homeowners or renters, the interest rate is 2.3 percent and 3.3 percent for businesses, Santos said.

Santos said the loans can be received even if survivors have insurance. Settlements often take longer to receive than SBA loans, Santos said. The money from insurance can then be used to repay the loans.

As of this week, SBA has provided more than $2 million in loans to businesses, homeowners and renters for Jan. 12 tornadoes.