The Times Reporter

August 6, 2003

Stark, Carroll among counties eligible for federal disaster relief

Copley News Service

WASHINGTON – President Bush has added Stark, Carroll, Columbiana and Cuyahoga counties to a major disaster declaration he issued last week to provide federal aid to residents and businesses hit by flooding.

Severe storms that belted northeast Ohio late last month caused millions of dollars in damage.

Gov. Bob Taft last Friday added the four counties to his request for federal aid after Bush declared Mahoning, Medina, Portage, Summit and Trumbull counties a major disaster area.

As a result, homeowners, renters and businesses in the nine counties are eligible for federal grants and low-interest loans to help pay for temporary housing, repairs and other costs.

Taft also requested but has not received federal “public assistance” to help repair or replace public infrastructure damaged by the flooding. Officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency said they are continuing to assess damage in northeast Ohio and could recommend public assistance in the future.

Grants, which are available from FEMA, may be used to pay for temporary housing or to make damaged residences safe to live in.

For example, the grants will pay for cleaning and disinfecting flooded basements, opening blocked sewer lines, and cleaning and testing furnaces, water heaters and electrical panel boxes, FEMA spokesman Russ Edmonston said.

Renters and homeowners are eligible for the grants without regard to their income.

The federal government also makes unemployment assistance available to farmers, agricultural workers and other self-employed people who are out of work as a result of a disaster but do not qualify for regular state unemployment assistance. Those affected should apply for the aid at their local unemployment office, officials said.

Low-interest loans, available from the Small Business Administration, help homeowners, renters and businesses pay for the repair or replacement of damaged homes and personal property, facilities, inventory, machinery and other equipment.

Not everyone is eligible for low-interest loans, which carry a current interest rate of about 3 percent, Edmonston said, but even those who don’t want a loan or doubt they are eligible should apply, he added. Applicants who are rejected for a loan may then become eligible for another grant program called “other needs assistance,” which he said helps pay for lost personal possessions, transportation, medical needs and other costs.

The various forms of aid are meant to cover basic needs, not compensate for an entire loss. The assistance only applies to damage that is uninsured.

To be considered for relief, affected residents and business must call FEMA at (800) 621-3362 between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Those who are speech or hearing impaired may call (800) 462-7585.

To speed the application process, callers are asked to provide their phone number, Social Security number, general list of damages, insurance information and general financial data.

FEMA plans to open one or more recovery centers in northeast Ohio later this week to offer assistance in filling out applications and answering questions. Where those centers will be located has not been determined.