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FEMA Can Help in Wake of Disaster

For most of us, the power of storms and the drama of people caught in their path are stories played out on television. For others, unfortunately, a tornado, hurricane or flood is a harsh reality when it comes barreling through your home. For citizens trying to overcome this personal tragedy, it's comforting to know that federal disaster aid may be available.

Federal disaster aid from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) becomes available when the state declares an emergency, followed by a presidential declaration of a disaster. The programs cover homeowners and businesses to the extent that private insurance does not, or when private insurance fails to provide benefits to completely cover losses.

Minimal Repair Program. Don't expect this grant to completely cover your home repair costs. It's called minimal for a reason--the grant covers only those structural repairs necessary to make your home habitable as quickly as possible. But that's still a substantial shot-in-the arm.

Temporary Housing. Temporary housing grants are designed to help residents displaced by a disaster pay temporary rent costs. The amount is based on what apartments or homes rent for in the area affected by the disaster. It includes one month's rent for displaced renters and up to three months' rent for displaced homeowners. FEMA provides additional assistance on a case-by-case basis.

Low-Interest Home and Business Loans. The Small Business Administration (SBA) makes home loans to cover disaster damage to primary residences. The costs of the loan program are moderate and based on a means test--rates depend on the borrower's ability to pay. Other loans cover personal property losses, including losses suffered by renters. Businesses may qualify for FEMA business loans to cover property losses and cash-flow problems resulting from the disaster. Loans from the Farm Services Agency are available to cover production and property losses for farmers, ranchers and aquaculture operators. These farm loans do not, however, cover losses to primary residences.

Individual and Family Grants. Assistance is available to cover medical, funeral, transportation and personal property losses. This program is funded by FEMA but administered by the state government.

Disaster Unemployment Benefits. Workers who suffer a temporary job loss, or take a reduction in hours due to a disaster, may qualify for unemployment benefits based on their past income. The payments are designed for workers who do not otherwise qualify for regular state unemployment benefits, and are paid for up to 26 weeks.

For more information, visit the FEMA Web site at

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