Disaster relief approved for Sevier County fire victims
STEVE ALLEN, Knoxville News Sentinel
GATLINBURG – More than $1.5 million in disaster relief for victims of the Sevier County fires of Nov. 28 has been approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Bettina Hutchings, FEMA external affairs officer.
Hutchings explained Wednesday that once an area is declared a natural disaster region – as Sevier County was by President Barack Obama on Dec. 15 – it becomes eligible for two types of FEMA funding: individual assistance (IA) and public assistance (PA).
Uninsured or underinsured homeowners who suffered losses in the fire to their primary residence are eligible for several types of FEMA funding: one is for home repair or replacement, another is for losses of vehicles, medical supplies and personal property.
Hutchings said the approved payment for residences lost or damaged is $1,007,038 thus far and for vehicles, medical supplies and personal property is $516,565. In all, 211 applicants have been approved.
In addition people with primary residences or small businesses destroyed or damaged are eligible for low-interest loans through the Small Business Administration.
“The public (PA) money will take longer,” Hutchings said. “It goes toward repairing roads, bridges, public buildings and such. That is a process in which there are a series of meetings, first to explain the process, then to submit documentation, then inspectors are sent out. So, it takes a while.”
The individual assistance can be applied for as long as 60 days after the disaster-area declaration, which in this case is through Feb. 13.
A second FEMA/SBA Registration Center was opened Monday, this one in Pigeon Forge, to help in the application process. It is at 2850 Parkway, Suite 5, in the Pigeon Forge Factory Outlet directly behind the Country Music Store.
FEMA had already opened a help center Friday at the Gatlinburg Community Center at 156 Proffitt Road. That center is part of the Multi-Agency Recovery Center that had operated for several weeks in a shopping center on Teaster Road in Pigeon Forge but was moved Friday to the Gatlinburg Community Center.
Both centers are open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday.
Applicants will be asked for the following information: name, Social Security number, address of damaged home or apartment, description of damage, information on insurance coverage, telephone number, mailing address, and bank account and routing numbers for direct deposit of funds.
FEMA assistance can also be obtained by calling 1-800-621-3362 between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. seven days a week or by registering online at www.Disaster Assistance.gov.
Hutchings said help offices are typically opened for one or two months, “but we will stay open as long as needed.”
Richard Daigle, SBA public affairs specialist, said the SBA has just begun the process of accepting applications with 30 collected, but he expects a large number to come in with both help centers open.
He stressed the importance to primary homeowners and small businesses of applying for the loans even if they are not that interested at present in accepting them.
“There are plenty of reasons to apply and none to not apply,” he said.
He explained that after someone’s application is accepted that person has two months to decide whether to accept the loan.
“Often paying to get a home rebuilt is a combination of FEMA grant money, insurance money and then an SBA loan,” he said, indicating homeowners at first don’t realize that FEMA and insurance money sometimes don’t cover the entire cost of rebuilding a home.
The loans can go as low as 1.5 percent and can be for as much as $200,000 for damage to the residence and another $40,000 for damage to contents. The loans are through SBA directly, not a bank or other lending institution, and there are no closing costs. Payments can also be deferred for five months.
He also explained that some applications are denied in which case the residence owner or business can return to FEMA with the SBA loan denial information and be eligible for more FEMA money than was originally granted.
Businesses are eligible for $2 million in loans that can be applied not only to the cost of replacing the business but also to revenue lost because the business was closed for repairs.
For both homes and businesses, Daigle urged owners not to wait for insurance approvals before applying. Haggling with insurance companies can sometimes take months, he said, and the SBA loan can be adjusted once the insurance money is approved.
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