New facilities are being opened to provide assistance for people and businesses impacted by the destructive storms that hit parts of Arkansas in the spring. Centers opened last week in Fayetteville, Conway, Pocahontas, and Walnut Ridge to serve people from 16 counties who are eligible for government aid.
Daniel Green with the Federal Emergency Management Agency works with victims of the storms to expedite the process of receiving loans and other government aid.
“We’re here, we’re pounding the pavement, knocking on doors, but we’re also opening facilities for those who were impacted by the flood to go in and get some help,” Green says. “It’s basically a one-stop-shop for disaster survivors.”
These disaster recovery centers host officials from FEMA, the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management and the Small Business Administration.
“We work for both homeowners, renters, businesses of all sizes, and private nonprofits to ensure that they get as close to pre-disaster condition recovery as possible,” says Garth MacDonald with the SBA. “Lots of people don’t realize that we help homeowners and renters with low-interest direct loans to rebuild their homes and replace personal property.”
The SBA also assists businesses with making repairs, replacing inventory, and receiving aid for economic injury. Green and MacDonald say accessibility and convenience are central to helping victims of the storms get help. The first step in getting government aid is applying to FEMA, which can be done before going to one of the new facilities. Disaster survivors can call, go online, or walk-in to any facility, regardless of where they live.
Green says officials are looking for even more ways to make the application process easier and more efficient, and as a part of that, they have opened a mobile location. The new facility, to be stationed in Harrison beginning Wednesday, serves to try and get as close to the disaster survivors as possible, says Green.
In order to simplify the process for those in need of aid, applying with FEMA automatically provides data to the SBA and the state, who can follow up with survivors with additional loans. MacDonald says FEMA and the SBA may even be able to compensate for money already spent out-of-pocket to recover from the storms in previous months.
Each location has disability accommodations for wheelchairs, the blind, and the deaf. An app for smartphones is also available to make the process simpler, Green says.
“Not only can you apply for assistance through the FEMA app, you can also track DRC locations, disaster recovery centers both fixed and mobile, and you can use the FEMA app to even take part in the recovery process. Say you’re driving down the road, you turn a corner, you see some damage you think somebody hasn’t seen,” says Green.
“The FEMA app allows just your average citizen, going about their everyday life, to be part of the recovery process by taking photos, geotagging it, and sending it to us, and we can kind of take a look and go 'woah, woah, there was an area that we didn’t see.”
Green and MacDonald say many of those who have applied for aid have already been approved. FEMA has facilitated the approval of over 2.2 million dollars in assistance as of July 28, and the SBA has approved almost 20 loans for a total of $300,000.
The type of aid varies on a case-by-case basis. Depending on whether a home is owned or rented, whether it’s in a flood zone, whether there are additional damages to the property, and depending on other variables, different aid services can be provided.
Green says this can cause confusion and frustration for those who are attempting to restore homes or businesses. Government officials are also preparing for the possibility, MacDonald says, that federal assistance might not be enough.
“Inevitably in some disasters there’s unmet needs where individuals do not get enough of the help they need through the federal agencies. The state Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters is already working with the FEMA Voluntary Agency liaisons on looking at bringing assets together from national and local charities to try to find either labor or funds, to help those people who are going to find themselves with unmet needs,” MacDonald says.
The Arkansas Chapter of the Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters collaborates with local charities and churches to assemble resources for those unmet needs. MacDonald says, “When you’re hit by a disaster, it’s an overwhelming feeling. Individuals are trying to get claims done with their insurance, they’re trying to get back into their normal living environment, get back to work. And so utilizing those recovery centers is a great way to move through the process.”
Those facilities are open seven days a week. Counties eligible for individual assistance include Benton, Boone, Carroll, Clay, Faulkner, Fulton, Jackson, Lawrence, Prairie, Pulaski, Randolph, Saline, Washington, White, Woodruff, and Yell. The deadline to apply for government aid is August 14th.
For more information, call the FEMA Helpline at 800-621-3362, or go online at www.disasterassistance.gov.