Get Some O’ that SWEET GUB’MENT Money

Hurricane Matthew has come and gone, leaving felled trees, flood damage, smashed homes, cars and businesses in its wake. Mercifully, the storm did not directly hit Northeast Florida, so many of us escaped relatively unscathed while others may suffer economic impacts of the storm for months, even years.

But wait, there’s hope! Sweet, sweet hope, better known as government assistance. (If you’re opposed to taking cash from Uncle Sugar, well, good for you.)

For the rest of us, you’re eligible for disaster assistance from the feds if:

 

  • a member of your household is a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national, or qualified alien with a social security number;
  • you experienced financial losses (including lost time at work, damage to home, business, automobile, etc.) as a result of the storm; and
  • those losses were not covered under an insurance policy. If you’re not sure if your insurance policy will cover you, go ahead and apply. The sooner you have a denial form in hand, the sooner Federal Emergency Management Authority may be able to help.

There are gobs and gobs of things that people don’t realize they can get reimbursed for or, in some cases, get immediate assistance. These include costs associated with property damage, personal injuries, rent, storage, medical expenses, funeral expenses, HVAC unit damage, water and septic systems, even hotels if you were evacuated. For low-income folks, there’s even a way to get free legal advice and help through Disaster Legal Services.

It’s important to take photos of storm damage to your property as soon as possible, ideally before you begin cleaning up and repairing, and to maintain records of all expenses.

Before you apply for assistance, make sure you have your social security number, insurance policy, damage information, total annual household income before taxes, current contact information and, only if you prefer direct deposit of funds, your bank account information.

Although some qualify for no-strings-attached assistance, if your annual household income is more than a certain amount, FEMA may refer you to SBA to apply for a loan to pay for your losses. But just because they send you to Small Business Administration doesn’t mean you’ll qualify; and if you don’t, guess what? They send you back to FEMA for a grant (that’s free money, yo). So don’t despair if you get sent to SBA, just apply. If you get approved and don’t like the terms of the loan, you’re not obligated to take it.

As of Oct. 10, our area has not been federally declared for individual assistance, but it is expected to be designated as such any minute now, so FEMA is taking early registration for Hurricane Matthew recovery.

If your business or private nonprofit organization was physically damaged or economically harmed by the storm, you may qualify for a low-interest, long-term loan of up to $2 million through SBA. You can use the funds to repair or replace damaged or destroyed real estate, machinery and equipment, inventory and other business assets. Some may even be eligible for refinancing all or a portion of an existing mortgage or lien and “may be able to increase the loan up to 20 percent of the confirmed physical losses … to make improvements that reduce the risk of damage by future disasters.” Now could be the time to install those storm windows or shore up that bulkhead on your waterfront restaurant.

Even if your business wasn’t physically damaged, you may be able to receive up to $2 million in loans to help meet working capital needs caused by the disaster. ’Cause, really, if you’re one of the 92,545 JEA customers reportedly without power as of 12:45 p.m. Oct. 10 according to the outage map, you’re probably not open. A closed business = a business that’s losing money. Those that may qualify include small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives, small businesses engaged in aquaculture and most private, nonprofit organizations.

Beware of scammers! Jerks ripping people off descend like locusts after pretty much every disaster, some price-gouging or committing fraud, others pretending to be FEMA inspectors, contractors, tree-trimmers and oral surgeons (maybe not that last one). If you suspect fraud or price-gouging, call FEMA’s Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 or the Florida Attorney General’s fraud and price-gouging hotline at 866-966-7226.

Be aware that FEMA inspectors do not just show up and start poking around. After you’ve applied for assistance, they’ll call you to schedule an appointment, and all inspectors carry a federal photo ID.

If some yahoo with a chainsaw or a tool belt asks if you need work done at your home or business, check his or her business or contractor license and proof of insurance before you let them in your house or on your roof — or let them take a chainsaw to the leaning tower of live oak in the backyard.

Recover on!

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Sources: disaster.gov, fema.gov

For more information or to apply for federal assistance, visit disasterassistance.gov or call 1-800-621-FEMA (1-800-621-3362), TTY 1-800-462-7585, 711 or VRS 1-800-621-3362.

To apply for an SBA loan, visit disasterloan.sba.gov/ela to fill out a Disaster Loan Application or mail a completed application and an IRS Form 4506-T (Request for Transcript of Tax Return) to: Processing & Disbursement Center, 14925 Kingsport Road, Fort Worth, Texas 76155.

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