Woodford Times - Peoria, IL
  • FEMA: Sign up soon for federal disaster aid; beware of scams

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  • WASHINGTON — The Federal Emergency Management Agency is urging Tri-County Area residents affected by the Nov. 17 tornadoes to sign up as soon as possible to be eligible for grants, and to watch out for people impersonating FEMA-approved contractors.
    Anyone who needs assistance can sign up by either visiting disasterassistance.gov, going to the mobile website at m.fema.gov or calling (800) 621-3362, said Deanna Frazier, the agency's public information officer, on Monday.
    While there haven't been any confirmed reports of anyone impersonating FEMA-approved contractors yet because the agency has only been in the area for a week, it's common for them to contact victims after large disasters, Frazier said.
    "FEMA contractors never ask for money or personal ID," Frazier said. "If someone does, call the police or sheriff's office."
    Contractors representing FEMA will have photo identification stating they are official, and they shouldn't come without an appointment.
    FEMA started supplying its individual assistance program after it was approved to respond to Gov. Pat Quinn's request for federal assistance Nov. 26.
    Tornado victims can apply for up to $32,400 in federal grants. But Frazier said it's imperative for them to work with their insurance companies first.
    "If you're underinsured, FEMA assistance can help fill that gap," Frazier said.
    Homeowners can be eligible for up to three months of rental assistance, while victims who have lost apartments are covered up to one month.
    The grant can cover home repairs and replacement of essential house items not covered by insurance. It also can help cover health, dental and eye insurance, including replacement for dentures or glasses lost in the storm.
    The FEMA grant will not affect a victim's income tax or Social Security in any way.
    "But none of this can happen unless people register," Frazier said.
    After registering, Frazier said victims should fill out a U.S. Small Business Administration form, which will determine if they are eligible for a homeowner's loan. The FEMA grant can cover the difference between the financial need of victims and the loan, up to the $32,400 maximum amount.
    FEMA also is working with the Illinois Emergency Management Agency on preliminary damage assessments to infrastructure and public property damage, IEMA spokeswoman Patti Thompson said.
    The assessments will determine how much aid FEMA will give to municipalities.
    "We're coordinating closely with them, making sure everything is taken into account," Thompson said.
    Frazier said FEMA also can provide funding for other services including unemployment assistance, crisis counseling and legal aid, but Quinn needs to first ask for those services from the federal level.
    Page 2 of 2 - Vikaas Shanker can be reached at 686-3194 or vshanker@pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @VikaasPJStar.
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