Three months after the Memorial Day tornadoes, little progress has been made on some houses like those in Trotwood on Greenbrook Drive seen Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2019. CHRIS STEWART / STAFF
Photo: Chris Stewart
Photo: Chris Stewart

Important deadline today for tornado survivors

Today is the last day for people rebuilding from the Memorial Day tornadoes to apply for Federal Emergency Management Agency grants and low-interest Small Business Administration loans.

Even if a survivor thinks they are covered by private insurance — but still dickering over a settlement amount — it’s a good idea to register yet today with FEMA, said John Frederick, a Small Business Administration spokesman.

Without registering first with FEMA, individuals also can’t apply for low-interest SBA loans that can be “used as a safety net,” he said.

“If you need it it’s there,” Frederick said. “If they get approved for a loan, they are under no obligation to take out a loan.”

INTERACTIVE MAP: See where thousands of properties were damaged in Montgomery County tornadoes

So far, the SBA has approved 571 loans totaling $22.3 million for rebuilding homes in the 11 counties named in a federal disaster declaration. Of those, 345 were approved in Montgomery County, 83 in Greene County and 16 in Miami County. The interest rate for SBA home loans is as low as 1.938%.

Survivors who register with FEMA and are directed to the SBA loan process should complete the steps that may lead back to FEMA for a grant, Frederick said.

“But if you don’t complete the process, you’ve told FEMA, the state of Ohio and the SBA that you don’t need any more assistance,” he said. “That stops the process.”

MORE Montgomery County waives permit, inspection fees for tornado demo, rebuilding

Renters, too, preserve an opportunity for grants and SBA loans if they apply by the deadline.

Both renters and homeowners may borrow up to $40,000 to repair or replace clothing, furniture, cars or appliances lost in the disaster. Homeowners may apply for up to $200,000 to repair or replace a primary residence to pre-disaster condition, according to the SBA.

In Dayton last week, James K. Joseph, FEMA’s Region V administrator, said agency employees knocked on more than 8,000 doors and took more than 6,000 registrations since a record-breaking 21 tornadoes hit Ohio Memorial Day night and into the next morning.

But for every individual and household assistance grant awarded during this disaster, FEMA mailed out more than three denial letters, according to agency data requested by this newspaper last week.

MORE: Thousands more denied than awarded FEMA grants

Often, applicants are denied because they failed to provide information requested from FEMA, said Leo Skinner, a FEMA spokesman.

“The determination letter will tell you what you need to provide us with, whether that is a signature or a certain document,” he said. “But you need to respond to each letter we send.”

Applicants have 60 days upon receipt of a determination letter to file an appeal. A FEMA decision can be appealed up to three times, Skinner said.

Even if a survivor receives no federal aid, registering with FEMA can help connect them with other resources, Frederick said.

“That can open up the doors to non-profit organizations that are out to help survivors as well,” he said.

MORE: $5M in disaster grants lift tornado recovery efforts

Much of that task is being organized through the Miami Valley Long Term Recovery Operations Group, which last week started a 211 helpline to place survivors with case managers who can also help survivors with the FEMA appeals process, said Michael Vanderburgh, the operations group chairman.

The group is working with FEMA to be able to identify the unmet needs of those who registered and provide them long-term assistance, said Vanderburgh, also St. Vincent de Paul’s executive director. The group also will work with those who shunned government help.

Vanderburgh said the same community groups that responded initially to the disaster before FEMA arrived will be providing unmet needs of survivors long after the federal agency packs up.

“Quite frankly, (survivors) won’t be made whole by FEMA,” Vanderburgh said. “If you look at the disaster response flow, it begins and ends with the voluntary organizations that do the non-governmental work.”

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