FEMA center still active
by Marcus E. Howard
October 02, 2009 01:00 AM | 1636 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
As cleanup after the flood continues in Austell, yards are piled high with damaged furniture and materials in many affected neighborhoods, such as this one on Cypress Club Trail off Clay Road. Residents can continue to seek assistance at the FEMA Disaster Recovery Center at the Threadmill complex at 5000 Austell-Powder Springs Road, suite 120. <br>Photo by Thinh D. Nguyen
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AUSTELL - The long lines have gotten shorter, but the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Disaster Recovery Center at the Threadmill complex at 5000 Austell-Powder Springs Road, suite 120, in Austell, is continuing to provide assistance to hundreds of Cobb flood victims.

FEMA, along with the U.S. Small Business Administration, have been answering questions and processing disaster grant and loan applications since the temporary center opened last Thursday. It is open every day from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. "We're still seeing a steady flow of people," said FEMA spokesman Jeff Welsh. "It's not the same number as the first couple of days, but still busy."

Welsh said flood victims mainly want to know the status of their applications.

Michael and Lydia Anyan, of Powder Springs, visited the center Thursday. They applied for disaster assistance after their house off Hiram Lithia Springs Road - which they purchased new for $140,000 seven years ago - was destroyed in the flood. They do not have flood insurance.

Originally from Ghana, the Anyans said they had no clue the area would ever flood. The couple and their daughter are temporarily staying in Lithonia at night and go home in the day to clean up. They were disappointed at the financial assistance they were approved for, which was about $27,500, they said. Their damage was estimated at $40,000.

"It's not enough to fix the house," Lydia Anyan said.

However, FEMA said people should not expect to be completely compensated by federal assistance.

Insurance coverage, for those who have it, offers the most comprehensive relief, said Welsh. People with insurance do not qualify for federal assistance.

"FEMA does not duplicate insurance coverage," Welsh said. "(FEMA grants) are intended to help people find a safe place to live immediately after a disaster and start the recovery process."

Financial assistance is not distributed at the disaster recovery centers, which have opened across metro Atlanta. These centers are to provide information and register applicants for financial disaster assistance from either FEMA or the SBA.

Once registered, staff can check an individual's case, answer questions about their claim, review information needed to process their claim or provide contacts for other programs offering assistance.

Individuals may also apply for assistance online at www.disasterassistance.gov or by calling (800) 621-FEMA (3362) or TTY (800) 462-7585. The toll-free numbers are staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Help in all languages is available.

Welsh said FEMA encourages anyone affected by the floods to apply for a FEMA grant. A FEMA inspector will assess damage and that information will be processed through the agency's computer system. Rental assistance is provided for those who are homeless for up to 30 days.

Also, individual assistance is provided for home and vehicle repairs, transportation, medical and dental expenses, as well as funeral costs. The maximum FEMA grant is $30,000. However, Welsh said that amount is rarely awarded. The average total amount of assistance provided, he said, is $5,000 or less.

Welsh said applicants can expect to receive financial assistance within two weeks from the day they applied. He said it is deposited into their bank accounts. FEMA, he said, has authority to audit for up to three years.

As of Wednesday, 12,400 state residents have applied for FEMA assistance, Welsh said. He did not immediately know how many were awarded assistance.

For those deemed financially able to pay back a loan, the FEMA claim process automatically refers them to the SBA. The SBA's low-interest disaster loan program is for homeowners, renters, businesses and private non-profit organizations of all sizes.

The SBA loan is the largest source of federal disaster assistance, said SBA spokesman Jack Camp. Those eligible should definitely apply, he said.

By Wednesday, 11,472 applicants (9,745 for homes and 1,727 for businesses) in the state had applied for SBA loans. Of those, 223 were accepted with six being approved. Camp said the initial process is typically slow, but will pick up. He said those approved for a loan can expect to receive it two weeks after they've applied.

On average, Jerome Strong, SBA field operations specialist in Cobb, said 60 to 80 people have come by daily to the SBA office in the Threadmill to inquire or apply for a loan.

"For the people who are coming in, they have their immediate needs that they need to take care of now, like food, housing or where they need to stay," Strong said. "But the SBA is more of a long-term recovery to help them repair or replace a home and items they had in the home. So it's more long-term financially."

The limit for home loans is $200,000 for repair or replacement of real estate and $40,000 to repair or replace personal property. The interest rate is 2.75 percent. The law limits business loans to $2 million for repair or replacement of real estate, inventories, equipment and other physical losses. The interest rate is 4 percent.

The limit for economic injury loans - for organizations that weren't directly impacted but suffered financial loss by the flood, like apartment complexes that may have renters move out - is also $2 million with a 4 percent interest rate.

"It is a low-interest loan, so we are looking at repayment ability, credit issues and things of that nature, in order to determine if you can repay a SBA loan," Strong said.

On Wednesday, however, Cobb County Commissioner Sam Olens questioned the low-interest loans.

"If you owed $120,000 on a $150,000 home that was destroyed, why would you want a low-interest loan of $150,000 to bulldoze and rebuild? Then you're in debt $270,000 on a $150,000 property," he said. "Some of these people, I imagine, will call up their banks and say 'You're the proud owner of this property.'"

Anyone not able to go to the disaster recovery center should call the SBA Customer Service Center from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, toll-free at (800) 659-2955. For more information, visit www.sba.gov/services/disasterassistance or send an e-mail to disastercustomerservice@sba.gov.

Ken Davis, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency public affairs director, said he believes FEMA has "done a great job" so far, considering the flood disaster hit Cobb just over a week ago.

"As disaster declarations go, this one has been very fast," Davis said.
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