The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) physical presence is about to shutter in Yankton, but that doesn’t mean that people who still need assistance will be left in the dark.
At the close of business Saturday, FEMA will be shutting down its physical presence at the Yankton County Office of Emergency Management.
FEMA Media Relations Specialist Pamela Saulsby told the Press & Dakotan that the agency has been hard at work in South Dakota for the past month.
"The presidential declaration declaring South Dakota a major disaster came on June 7," Saulsby said. "Shortly thereafter, it was boots on the ground for FEMA and its workers, making sure that the residents in the impacted counties know about registration, the importance of registration and the kinds of assistance that FEMA offers to disaster survivors."
She added it was important to have a physical presence in some of the most impacted areas.
"One of the first things we did was set up disaster recovery centers in some of the hardest hit counties so that the residents would have an opportunity to come into a building where there was not only FEMA — federal assistance — information available, but also help from our partners in recovery," she said. "That’s state and local government putting their agencies that could offer help to survivors there. It’s the Small Business Administration (SBA) having a huge presence there. They’re major partners with FEMA in disasters. So it’s a one-stop center for people to come in and find out what kind of programs may be eligible to apply for."
Saulsby said that, in the time the Yankton and Sioux Falls locations have been open, the combined centers have helped 250 people seeking assistance.
She said the closure comes as fewer people show up to the centers.
"These centers open and close based on need," she said. "As the number of people starts to trail off and they start to get really low, we know that it’s a time to pack up, close the centers but still let people know they have the opportunity to register."
People will still have the ability to sign up for individual assistance through Aug. 6 either by phone at 1-800-621-3362, TTY: 1-800-462-7585; online at www.disasterassistance.gov; or even through the FEMA app.
Saulsby said those applying for assistance will need to have some information at the ready.
"It is a process, so we ask for patience and understanding as folks begin to take this walk with us," she said. "At intake, they will ask for some important information just to make sure the person is who they say they are — they’ll want the Social Security number and insurance information."
She emphasized that insurance is not required to qualify for assistance.
"We help people who are uninsured or underinsured," she said. "If you are insured, we will want to know the information."
Other information includes the damaged property, how many people are in the household, income information and banking information.
"If you are approved for FEMA money — it doesn’t have to be paid back — we want to direct that money straight into your bank account," Saulsby said. "If someone has misgivings about it and they don’t feel right about giving banking information to a FEMA staff person, we can also just mail it."
After submitting this information, the applicant will receive a call from a housing inspector who will go through and document reported damages.
"They won’t ask you for personal information," Saulsby said. "They won’t ask you for money. They just want to talk with you about the damage to your home. That inspector isn’t able to make a decision about whether you’re eligible or ineligible. They’re just gathering information to add to your profile that FEMA is building to assess whether you’re eligible or not."
She said, shortly after inspections, applicants will either receive a check from FEMA or determination letters saying the person is ineligible.
Saulsby said that applicants shouldn’t necessarily be discouraged when receiving one of these letters.
"It doesn’t mean that it’s final and you’re not eligible," she said. "It generally means that we have put a pause in the process because we need more information from that survivor. It could be that the information that they gave us about their insurance was not complete or insufficient. It could be because the name of the person isn’t matching up with the address of the property and we want to see some additional documentation such as a phone bill, an electric bill or something that puts your name with the property."
She said that the agency will be helping South Dakotans recover from this spring’s flooding as long as necessary.
"We’re getting close to $1 million in the amount of money approved to the survivors of the disasters in South Dakota," she said. "That is progress and we know that we need to do more. We’re satisfied with the progress that we’re making in helping survivors, but we know that there’s more work to do. We know there are people who still haven’t registered. We know there’s people who still need help. We will be in this great state helping the great folks here as long as the governor says she continues to need FEMA assistance."
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