FEMA: Flood insurance is wisest path to recovery
Federal disaster assistance will not cover all your losses from Hurricane Matthew and the flooding that followed.
Officials at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) say many disaster survivors erroneously believe they will receive enough money from disaster assistance programs to restore their home to its pre-disaster condition.
But FEMA housing grants and other assistance programs are limited to the amount necessary to make your damaged home safe, sanitary and functional for the number of occupants who live there. The cost of repairing additional spaces, such as family rooms, dens or extra bedrooms, is not considered.
Also, currently the law limits federal disaster assistance to $33,000 per household.
Most homeowners know that standard property insurance policies don’t cover flooding. However, homeowners who had the foresight to purchase flood insurance – or who were required to have it by their mortgage lender – may be reimbursed for up to $250,000 for physical damage to their house and up to $100,000 for personal property.
Flood insurance is available in any community that participates in FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), including Beaufort County.
Other benefits of flood insurance versus disaster assistance include:
• Assistance grants from FEMA require a presidential disaster declaration; declarations are not awarded in all flooding events.
• Flood insurance claims are paid even if a disaster is not declared by the president.
• Many floods never reach catastrophic disaster proportions. Flood insurance pays off for the smallest flood event, even for a single flooded room.
• The most typical form of disaster assistance is an interest-bearing loan that must be repaid. The term of an SBA disaster home loan could extend to 30 years. Repayment on a $50,000 SBA loan (at 2 percent) is $185 a month or $2,200 an year.
• The average cost of a NFIP policy is $600 a year; as little as $200 a year for “preferred risk,” if you live in a moderate-to-low-risk flood zone.
• Flood insurance policies are continuous; cannot be canceled or not-renewed for repeat losses.
You cannot buy a flood insurance policy direct from FEMA or the NFIP. To buy a flood insurance policy, South Carolina survivors should call their insurance agent or company.
For more information about flood insurance for homeowners and renters or to find an NFIP agent, call the FEMA Helpline at 800-621-3362 and ask for the NFIP Call Center.
FEMA encourages wise use of grants
More than $35 million in federal disaster assistance grants have been approved to date for South Carolinians recovering from Hurricane Matthew.
While this assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is tax-free and the grants do not have to be repaid, FEMA urges recipients to use their grants quickly, wisely and only for disaster-related expenses not covered by insurance.
After awarding a grant to a homeowner or renter, FEMA will send a follow-up letter that lists approved uses, such as:
• Home repairs to the structure, water, septic and sewage systems;
• Rental assistance for a different place to live temporarily;
• Repair or replacement of a flooded essential vehicle;
• Medical care for an injury caused by the disaster;
• Repair, cleaning or replacement of clothing and specialized tools;
• Necessary educational materials such as computers, school books and supplies;
• Moving and storage expenses related to the disaster; and
• Other serious disaster-related needs, such as child care.
Homeowners and renters may spend FEMA rental assistance grants in any way that helps them achieve the goal of safe, sanitary and functional housing.
Keep all receipts for three years to show how your disaster grants were spent.
After every major disaster FEMA conducts audits of disaster assistance payments to ensure taxpayer dollars were properly provided by the agency and appropriately used by recipients.
When you get a letter from FEMA, read it carefully. If you have any questions, call the FEMA Helpline at 800-621-3362 (voice, 711, video services) or 800-462-7585(TTY).
For more information, visit the South Carolina Emergency Management Division at scemd.org/recovery-section/ia.
Literacy Center helping dislocated families
The Literacy Center is providing staff and students to help dislocated families move back into their post-hurricane repaired apartments throughout January.
Interpreters and translators will help explain why there may be a few items missing (a demand too large for some materials and supplies), help them understand how to operate a new appliance or thermostat and make sure they have a key to their new front door.