From left, Malyssa Suarez, with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Brigitte Bouska, with the Ohio Emergency Management Agency, Steve Cooper, of FEMA, and Ahmed Hossain, of the Small Business Administration, conduct a joint preliminary assessment of tornado damage Wednesday, June 5, at the Woodland Hills Apartments in Trotwood. CHRIS STEWART / STAFF
Photo: Chris Stewart
Photo: Chris Stewart

Thousands more denied than awarded FEMA grants

Extended registration period will soon close.

Thousands more Memorial Day tornado survivors have been denied Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance than have received grants, new data examined by the Dayton Daily News show.

But officials on Wednesday continued to encourage people who were uninsured or underinsured to register before the clock runs out Tuesday.

“When that deadline passes, it’s too late to get into the system,” said Montgomery County Commissioner Carolyn Rice.

FEMA has sent out 4,933 denial letters to 6,305 individuals or households who have registered in the 11-county disaster area, according to agency data requested by this newspaper.

While FEMA has awarded about $4.3 million in assistance grants, just seven households have received the maximum allowed — $34,900 — following the Memorial Day tornadoes.

“We all hear the big numbers and they think everything’s great, everybody’s getting a lot of money,” said John Pyron, at a prior meeting of the Miami Valley Long-Term Recovery Operations Group where he is an at-large board member.

But the awards are typically more modest.

Grants have gone to 1,579 individuals or households. So far, the average award is $2,733, but many receive less, according to the data.

The awards aren’t meant to bridge the entire gap, said Trotwood Mayor Mary McDonald.

“FEMA wasn’t designed to make you whole, it was designed to be a help,” she said. “The goal was to at least keep people in a holding pattern until they were able to get the necessary resources they needed.”

The FEMA data reflect that most of the financial resources have flowed to where the damage proved worse.

“It happened in some of our most populated communities in the Dayton-Montgomery (County) area,” said Sima Merick, Ohio’s emergency management director. “We are far from over. We have a lot of work to do but we will continue to do this as a unified group and a unified effort.”

About $3.2 million, or 74 percent of the $4.3 million in individual and household grants disbursed so far, have gone to Montgomery County residents.

The process to get a grant and the failure through denial letters can be perplexing, said James K. Joseph, FEMA’s Region V administrator, who was in Dayton on Wednesday at the agency’s remaining disaster recovery center that will close Friday.

“I understand it can be confusing. Not only that, it’s frustrating,” he said “You’re in the middle of recovery you need assistance and you get this denial letter.”

Many times, people are denied FEMA benefits because they are already covered by private insurance, Joseph said.

“Most often you will have people who don’t qualify or are denied assistance because they have other forms of assistance as well,” he said. “Obviously since we can’t duplicate benefits, insurance will be primary.”

Joseph said renters who had losses — including those who had to relocate temporarily or longer — should not pass up the opportunity to register.

“There are some people who sometimes don’t think they qualify, or they don’t know if they will qualify,” he said.

More renters, 1,120, have received grants than homeowners, 459.

“It’s often a misunderstanding, just a lack of knowledge of the programs. Not often are we turning on this program in the states. So it’s very new to residents.”

Following the tornadoes Memorial Day night and next day, President Donald Trump signed a June 18 major Disaster Declaration for 10 Ohio counties, including Greene, Miami and Montgomery counties. Mahoning County was later added to the declaration. The registration deadline, originally Aug. 19, was extended following the Oregon District mass shooting.

Every dollar of assistance coming now through the federal government will help in the long run, said Michael Vanderburgh, who chairs the area long-term recovery operations group.

“We can help more people with more if they do sign up with FEMA because it stretches our resources farther,” he said. “But once that FEMA door is closed, it’s closed and it will never reopen.”

But those who registered with FEMA will still have an opportunity to lodge an appeal within 60 days of a denial, Vanderburgh said.

“Just because FEMA is no longer physically present after (Sept. 3), doesn’t mean you can’t get help from them after that,” he said. “But you have to be registered and you have to be timely with your appeals.”

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