People all over Florida are trying to get their lives back to normal following
Hurricane Irma. While no part of the Florida peninsula was unscathed,
the Tampa Bay area fared better than many feared. Irma tracked a little
further east than projected and weakened as it moved north, sparing our
area the worst of the wind, rain, and storm surge.
Nevertheless, there was still major damage and disruption. There was (and
is) flooding, particularly around the Anclote and Alafia Rivers. Falling
trees blocked roads and damaged buildings and cars. Thousands of area
residents still don’t have power. Supply chains have been affected,
which means basics like gas, water, and groceries are still scarce.
Given that, it was welcome news when federal offices announced that all
our bay area counties (Hillsborough, Pinellas, Polk, Pasco, Hernando,
and Manatee) are now eligible for federal disaster relief. Basically,
this form of relief covers storm-related damage not covered by private
insurance policies. It provides a helping hand for people who don’t
have insurance at all, or for expenses insurance doesn’t cover.
People with insurance should file claims with their insurance company as
well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Although FEMA payments
will not duplicate private insurance payments, receiving benefits from
one will not preclude receiving benefits from the other.
FEMA assistance is not a loan; it does not have to be repaid. For people
with losses not covered by insurance or FEMA, loans may be available through
the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). The SBA offers low interest,
long-term disaster loans to those eligible.
People seeking FEMA benefits should start by going to DisasterAssistance.gov
and filling out an online questionnaire. People should have their social
security number, phone number, mailing address, and private insurance
information (if any) available when they fill out the application.
Within 10 days of filling out the application, one should expect a phone
call from FEMA arranging an inspection time for your home. Given the number
of people affected, this could be a slow process. The good news is that
if you qualify, you will receive a check from FEMA, along with instructions
on how you must use the money you receive. If you don’t qualify,
FEMA will explain why, and give you information on how to appeal the decision.
We hope everyone gets back on their feet quickly in the days ahead. People
with legitimate needs should not hesitate to seek the federal relief which
will help them do it.