Federal rebuilding resources: How to connect with FEMA and the SBA

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hurricane irma keys
The aftermath of Hurricane Irma in Florida Keys, Sept. 11 (Matt Mclean/EPA)

The Associated General Contractors of America (AGCA) has compiled an outline of tips and resources for individuals and businesses affected by Hurricane Irma.

If you’ve been affected by the disaster, you can apply online for federal assistance at www.disasterassistance.com. The registration process takes about 18 to 20 minutes, and survivors have 60 days from “a declaration for individual assistance to apply for assistance.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) says 37 counties have been declared eligible for individual and business disaster relief.

On Sept. 13, business owners, homeowners and renters in Brevard, Citrus, DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Hendry, Hernando, Highlands, Indian River, Lake, Marion, Martin, Okeechobee, Orange, Osceola, Pasco, Polk, St. Lucie, Seminole, Sumter and Volusiac counties were added to the list.

FEMA says these are in addition to Broward, Charlotte, Collier, Clay, Duval, Flagler, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Putnam Sarasota, and St. Johns counties, which were previously designated for individual assistance.

If you aren’t sure if you are in an area covered by the FEMA assistance, you can enter your address to see if your area has been declared for eligible for individual assistance.

The FEMA website also allows you to:

  • Find disaster assistance that meets personal needs;
  • learn more about the 70 forms of assistance from 17 federal agencies;
  • apply for disaster assistance and reduce the number of forms to complete;
  • check the status of your application;
  • find a FEMA Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) nearby); and
  • find a hotel or new place to live.

FEMA Helpline

The FEMA Helpline at (800) 621-3362 (621-FEMA) operates from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week. The agency’s Internet Help Desk at (800) 745-0243 operates 24 hours daily.

Small Business Administration (SBA) loans and federal grants

AGCA reports that the federal government has two main vehicles for delivering money to disaster survivors. These are SBA disaster loans and federal grants.

“SBA issues low-interest disaster loans to homeowners and businesses,” AGCA says. “SBA disaster loans are generally faster than grants, typically available within a few weeks after a disaster, and must be paid back with interest. Federal grants are generally slower, but do not need to be paid back. Individuals referred by FEMA to SBA must apply with SBA even if they feel they cannot afford or do not want a loan in order to receive some FEMA assistance.”

AGCA notes that “it is important to note that the current law holds that every dollar for which a disaster survivor is approved for a SBA loan is a dollar less than they can receive from a federal grant. For example if a survivor who is eligible for $100,000 in assistance is offered a $70,000 SBA loan, the survivor will only be eligible to receive grants up to $30,000.”

The SBA low-interest disaster loans “are available to businesses of all sizes, private non-profit organizations, homeowners and renters.” SBA disaster loans can be used to repair or replace real estate, personal property, machinery and equipment and inventory and business assets.

For questions about SBA or the process, or for help in completing the SBA application, contact SBA’s disaster Assistance Customer Service Center at (800) 659-2955 emailing disastercustomerservice@sba.gov or visit sba.gov/disaster.

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