PHILADELPHIA, PA – A month of vicious weather left some local areas shattered and in need of relief. “So far we’ve had foot traffic of 343 visitors” said Public Affairs Officer Eugene Brezany of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Brezany was talking about the total visitors (as of last Friday) to the disaster recovery center opened in Center City Philadelphia following Hurricane Irene. Hundreds of Philadelphians sought support on the 3rd floor of the Packard Building at 111 So. 15th Street. A 2nd center opened today in the wake of damage caused by Tropical Storm Lee.
This latest center on the lower level of the Belfield Recreation Center at 2109 West Chew Avenue welcomes victims of disaster today from 1 p.m. – 7 p.m. Regular hours start on Tuesday from 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. All centers are open daily.
Brezany suggests visitors register for disaster assistance online any time at www.disaterassistance.gov, at m.fema.gov using a web-enabled device/smartphone, or call 800.621.FEMA (3362). Applicants with a speech disability or hearing loss who use TTY should call 800.462.7585. For individuals using 711 or video relay service (VRS) call 800.621.3362. These toll-free numbers operate from 7 a.m. – 10 p.m. 7 days a week.
Online and telephone resources take applicants through the appropriate registration steps. It is also important to file personal or business claims with insurance companies first. Only after these two actions are completed can FEMA agents in disaster centers help victims mitigate destruction to their property, access temporary housing, and receive funds for disaster-related medical, dental, and burial costs, as well as money for heating fuel, clean-up equipment, clothing and household items, moving, storage and other expenses deemed necessary by law and by FEMA.
Do not expect the government to make anyone whole. It does offer low-interest loans and emergency grants to help restore housing to livable conditions. At best for public entities and nonprofits, federal disaster assistance may subsidize up to 75% of uninsured losses to infrastructure that serve a government function.
Included in emergency aid are temporary rental grants for a 30-day period until the renters’ previous homes are habitable or other residences are located. The exact timeframe is subject to review. For property losses not covered by insurance, renters may borrow up to $40,000 in U.S. Small Business Administration loans. Representatives for the SBA are found in the two Philadelphia recovery centers and others around the state.
While at the centers ask about disaster unemployment assistance, disaster legal services, CLC participating hotels, crisis counseling, and IRS assistance and special tax considerations.
Do note the Philadelphia Department of Revenue extended tax filing deadlines on certain city taxes and the IRS postponed certain deadlines for taxpayers in disaster areas until October 31. IRS news releases PA-34-2011, PA-33-2011, and NJ-2011-42 outline the rules. Agents at recovery centers can offer more detail on both programs.
How to apply for relief
To apply for FEMA assistance, have the following items ready:
- Pen and paper
- Social security number (the name there should match the name on the application)
- Current and pre-disaster address
- Telephone number where applicant can be reached
- Insurance information (applicants have up to 12 months to submit insurance info for review)
- Total household annual income
- Bank routing and account number for direct deposit of funds
- Description of disaster-related losses
As of Friday, 5,232 visitors were helped at FEMA disaster recovery centers, which are run in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency. And, some $47 million was approved for 29,572 people registered in individual and household recovery programs.
Where to seek services
Recovery centers opened just last week in Bucks, Cumberland, Delaware, Montgomery, Northumberland, Schuylkill, and Snyder counties. All centers are conveniently located near public transportation and parking areas. Brezany said midday is the busiest period at the centers and advised dropping in at a less hectic time. He expects centers to remain open as long as foot traffic indicates a need. Exact locations are listed on the FEMA website.
Visitors to the Packard Building in Center City Philadelphia are encouraged to use the Sansom Street entrance, take the stairs or chair lift on the left, go pass one elevator, and through the glass doors to the elevators for the 3rd floor.
Visitors may enter Belfield Recreation Center on West Chew Avenue or 21st Street. The wheelchair accessible entrance is on 21st Street.
While access to a variety of services is available at both Philadelphia sites, applications for the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program are no longer accepted there. Families who lost property, income, or food due to a flood or power outage must visit the Department of Public Welfare’s Philadelphia headquarters at 801 Market Street in Center City for D-SNAP assistance or call 215.560.3283 for the nearest location. Office hours are extended. Log on www.dpw.state.pa.us or call 800.692.7462 for more information.
President Obama declared an emergency for Pennsylvania due to Hurricane Irene on August 29. The disaster relief number is 4025. Disaster declaration number 4030 due to Tropical Storm Lee was approved for this state on September 12.
“We are grateful for the help and support,” stated Mayor Michael Nutter, “provided by President Barack Obama, Governor Tom Corbett, and our Congressional delegation in securing this disaster assistance for Philadelphia residents.”
All affected residents should pursue available aid at designated areas and avoid the scams that follow wide scale hardships. Remember to always ask for appropriate identification before providing personal information to government officials or contractors. For licensed contractors, check the Philadelphia Department of License & Inspection website and that of the Better Business Bureau. For more information about avoiding fraud, visit www.fema.gov.
All rights to article are reserved by Gloria Blakely. Copyright 2011.