GLADWIN COUNTY – President Donald Trump approved the State of Michigan request for a disaster declaration last Thursday. In a July 9 tweet Trump announced, “at the request of Congressman Moolenaar, I have approved a major Disaster Declaration to provide more than $43 million in Federal Funds to help the people of the GREAT State of Michigan recover from the recent dam break flooding. I will always stand with Michigan!”

“This federal assistance will help rebuild communities, homes and businesses, and I know how much this support will mean to so many who need it as they recover their lives and rebuild. While it won’t make everyone whole, every piece of help is a step in the right direction. I worked with my colleagues in the Michigan delegation to have this assistance approved and I will be working to help residents through this process,” wrote Moolenaar in a July 10 email. “Finally, I want to thank every resident who helped make this possible by completing their damage assessments. Their documentation was crucial to getting this relief.”

Governor Gretchen Whitmer made the disaster request back on June 15, and in a letter to the President outlined the damage in the mid Michigan counties of Arenac, Gladwin, Iosco, Midland and Saginaw. It was estimated that the flooding and dam failure has caused more than $190 million in losses to residents and over $55 million immediate response costs and damage to public buildings and infrastructure.

“Last month’s flooding and dam failures upended the lives of thousands of Michigan families and business owners at a time when we were just beginning to reopen our economy following weeks of working to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Governor Whitmer said. “This natural disaster, coupled with a global health pandemic, has created enormous stress and emotional trauma for these residents, and they need the federal government’s help to begin rebuilding their lives.”

The Disaster Declaration allows the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Small Business Administration (SBA) to begin helping mid-Michigan residents. FEMA is able to provide two types of support. The Individual and Households Program provides assistance for immediate short-term repairs or assistance. The Other Needs Assistance category includes personal property if its damaged as a result of the disaster and possibly some medical assistance such as replacing medications; anything that is not covered by insurance. 

There are several ways in which local residents can apply for assistance. The first step is to register with the FEMA. This can be done by phone or online. Individuals can call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362). For those who use the TTY system the number is 1-800-462-7585. These phones will be staffed from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week until further notice. Online registration can be done at www.DisasterAssistance.gov or through the FEMA App. Upon registration the applicant will receive a unique registration number. This number should be written down and kept in a safe/handy place.

The registration process takes about 15-20 minutes. Applicants will be asked to provide their social security number, telephone number, current mailing address and the address of the damaged property, and insurance information if available. Normally FEMA would send out an inspector to validate the damages, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic most inspections will be done virtually or by phone. FEMA spokesperson Michael Wade recommends strongly that individuals “maintain their receipts” to show what work they have done.

“We do minimal repairs to make your home safe, sanitary and secure so that you can live in it while you continue to make your long-term repairs,” continued Wade. “We also want to remind people that FEMA can not make them whole. We want to make sure that their building, home or apartment is secure and sanitary. They have access to running water, a bathroom, kitchen, a dinning room and bedroom.” Every case is examined individually and aide is based on the family makeup whether it is one person or five.

Wade mentioned that there is often a misunderstanding as to what FEMA can provide. “We do minimal repairs. We don’t replace carpet and things like that. We make sure that the roof isn’t leaking, the windows can open and close, you can secure the house, you have a floor under you that can support you while you continue to make repairs.” Rental assistance may also be available if a home is uninhabitable and FEMA will also evaluate wells on an individual basis.

Assistance from FEMA is only available for a primary residence. Second homes and rental properties are not eligible. Renters are able to receive assistance, but the owner of the property can’t.

The Small Business Administration (SBA) is the organization that can help people put their lives back together beyond the minimal repairs provided by FEMA. They can provide low interest loans that are backed by the government. “If people get an application from the SBA they need to fill it out,” said Wade. “If the SBA can’t give them a loan they will refer them back to FEMA for possible additional consideration for additional funds.” The SBA has a lot more flexibility than a bank because the federal government guarantees the money. “Its important that people understand that the SBA can get them closer to their recovery than we can.” Rental property owners can also apply for help through the SBA.

FEMA is stressing that disaster survivors must finalize their registration. If you reported your damage to local authorities, but haven’t contacted FEMA you must do so to be eligible for assistance. If you DO NOT have a registration number you are not registered. You have until September 9 to complete the registration.

FEMA has approved 129 Individual Assistance Applications to date. 1,508,261.80 has been approved through the Individual and Households Program (IHP), 1,483,849.38 in the Housing Assistance (HA) category and 24,412.42 in the Other Needs Assistance category (ONA).

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