Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two part series on options for disaster aid in the area. Part two will be in an upcoming edition of the Press & Dakotan.
All roads to disaster assistance begin with FEMA.
Since last week’s approval of disaster aid to South Dakota, federal agencies have been dispatched to Yankton to help people register for aid in the wake of severe spring flooding.
Regional flooding began in early March, but frequent rains through April compounded damage to homes as well as to roads and highways. Federal aid, though approved for Nebraska back in March, was held up until recently due to legislative wrangling, and was only approved for South Dakota last week by President Donald Trump.
Federal funding is now available to individuals in the counties of Bon Homme, Charles Mix, Hutchinson, Minnehaha and Yankton; the Pine Ridge Reservation including the counties of Oglala Lakota, Jackson and Bennett; the Rosebud Reservation to include the counties of Mellette and Todd; and the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation including the counties of Dewey and Ziebach.
The first representatives from a federal agency on the scene arrived Thursday in Yankton, as officials from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) set up a disaster recovery center at the Yankton County emergency office at 807 Capital Street in Yankton. The disaster recovery center is open from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Applicants are asked to park and enter from Douglas Street.
"That’s a facility where folks can just come and meet face to face with representatives from FEMA, the Small Business Administration (SBA) and several state agencies offering information on a variety of disaster assistance programs," said Brian Hvinden, external affairs specialist for FEMA. "We want people to avail themselves of the opportunity to meet with folks if they’ve already registered or if they want to meet with folk to make that initial registration."
The first step in the process of receiving and federal aid is registering with FEMA in person at the disaster recovery center, by phone at 800-621-3362 or online at www.disasterassistance.gov. The deadline for registering with FEMA is Aug. 6.
Registering with FEMA is not that same as calling the emergency 211 helpline set up during the flooding.
"During the flooding, they may have called 211, they may have spoken to the emergency manager, we may have visited them during the flooding, but that was a separate part of the process and they must register now," Hvinden said.
"Once they’ve done that, we have FEMA inspectors that will come out to their home, look at the damages incurred and then that inspection will trigger a number of different paths for what kind of assistance they get," Hvinden said. "Depending on the severity, if they can’t live in the home, that could be immediate rental assistance to find some other rental place."
Homeowners should have any photos showing evidence of damage and receipts for completed repairs and cleanup available for the FEMA inspector.
"I can’t guarantee that everything they’ve already done will qualify, but the folks that are at the recovery center will be able to work through each individual situation," Hvinden said.
Assistance can take the form of a grant from FEMA or a referral to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) disaster loan program for larger repairs and helping people get their dwellings back to pre-damage condition.
"FEMA’s assistance is really to just insure that folks are in a safe and habitable condition," Hvinden said. "It’s not going to make all the cosmetic repairs. We’ll put drywall back in, but we’re not going to finish it. It’s just to make sure you’ve got four safe walls around you.
"FEMA provides aid for housing only, so it’s primary living space. If it was a den or a rec room, we are not going to provide assistance for repairing that. It’s for bedrooms, kitchen, bathrooms —essential living space for the home" he said.
The SBA handles disaster loans for individuals, not just businesses, for repairs to the whole structure, not just primary living space. Everyone who registers with FEMA will be given an SBA loan packet, too.
"It’s actually really important that individuals fill out that SBA loan package even if you don’t want a loan, because that can trigger additional assistance," Hvinden said. "If someone doesn’t qualify, there may be additional grant funding available."
FEMA also refers individuals to voluntary agencies that can help, like the Red Cross, he said.
"Making that registration is so important to just trigger a potential variety of different ways of receiving assistance coordinated under our umbrella," Hvinden said. "Only a small portion of it is from FEMA."
The recovery center is open to anyone within the 12 counties listed for individual assistance.
The SBA is represented at the FEMA disaster recovery center, and also at RTEC in Yankton. Details of the SBA portion of the program will be in part two of this series.
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