FEMA designates 4 Florida counties for individual assistance

7 Georgia counties now also eligible for federal funds

The Federal Emergency Management Agency amended its major disaster declaration late Monday to include Individual Assistance for St. Johns, Flagler, Putnam and Volusia counties to assist residents with expenses related to Hurricane Matthew.

President Barack Obama’s Oct. 8 major disaster declaration for Georgia was also amended to approve the Individual Assistance program for Bryan, Bulloch, Chatham, Effingham, Glynn, McIntosh and Wayne counties.

A major disaster declaration from the federal government opens up federal resources to help impacted communities.

FEMA’s program is called the Individuals and Households Program. It provides up to $33,000 to be used for both housing assistance and other needs, including personal property.

“This is great news,” Flagler County commission chair Barbara Revels said. “This will help those who don’t have the means to get back on their feet after sustaining damage from the storm.”

FEMA is continuing to survey additional counties along Florida’s east coast to determine if Individual Assistance and Public Assistance will be made available to families and businesses in those counties.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, has called on the head of FEMA to provide individual disaster assistance to affected residents living in Brevard, Duval, Indian River, Nassau and St. Lucie counties.

“While I am grateful that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has agreed to provide individual assistance to residents living in Flagler, Putnam, St. Johns and Volusia counties, there are still several other Florida counties that were affected by Hurricane Matthew and are waiting to be approved for assistance,” Nelson said in a letter he sent Tuesday to Administrator Craig Fugate. “The state has requested assistance for individuals living in Brevard, Duval, Indian River, Nassau and St. Lucie counties, and I urge you to approve this request as soon as possible.”

Nelson went on to urge the head of FEMA to open local offices in each of the affected counties to help residents seeking disaster assistance and to work closely with other federal agencies to, among other things, prevent the spread of Zika, repair damage done to A1A and address the extensive beach erosion that occurred along Florida’s East Coast.. 

FEMA housing assistance can be used for the following:

  • Temporary housing, including rent money or a temporary housing unit when no rentals are available
  • Repair for damages that are not covered by insurance to repair the primary home to a safe and sanitary living or functioning condition. Homeowners may then apply for a Small Business Administration disaster loan for additional repair assistance, replacement and semi-permanent or permanent housing construction.

Other Needs Assistance provides grants for uninsured, disaster-related necessary expenses and serious needs.

The grant money can be used for the following:

  • Medical and dental expenses
  • Repair, cleaning or replacement of clothing, furnishings and appliances, specialized tools and protective clothing required for the individual’s job, and educational materials
  • Cleanup items such as fuel for clean up
  • Repair or replacing damaged vehicles or money for public transportation
  • Moving and storage expenses
  • The cost of National Flood Insurance Program group flood insurance policy to meet the flood insurance requirements.

There are some conditions and qualifications attached to the individuals and households program, such as the requirement for flood insurance and residency status. Those applying for assistance are responsible for providing the proper documentation for FEMA to evaluate eligibility.

“I am glad to know that impacted families and businesses will now have access to these resources to help with their recovery process," Gov. Rick Scott said. "I continue to urge President Obama to make these designations today in the remaining counties on our east coast. Florida is strong and resilient, and while we are making every resource available from the state, we need the federal government to be a good partner and help all of our families get back on their feet.” 

Disaster relief expert Scott Mager said that in order for survivors to be approved, they still have to apply for the funding help and provide the government with supporting documents like a home inspection. If approved, Mager explained it could take as many as 10 days for the money to come through.

Mager recommended skipping the online process altogether. He suggested either calling FEMA directly or printing out the forms and mailing them in.

Mager also said owners of homes and businesses should consider hiring a lawyer to make sure they get what they should -- not only from their personal insurance companies but also FEMA.

Jacksonville Beach mayor urges FEMA to provide individual assistance for Duval County residents

Jacksonville Beach Mayor Charlie Latham told News4Jax on Tuesday that he's written an email to FEMA, backing requests made by Scott and Nelson that the agency provide Individual Assistance for more counties with residents recovering from Hurricane Matthew.

Residents in Duval and Nassau counties will have to wait while FEMA inspectors continue assessing the damage. Latham said he hopes Duval County will be approved for the Individual Assistance program.

"The federal government gives us the ability, once they approved, for us to collect the materials and get reimbursed up to 75 percent," Latham said. 

Latham said if residents remove the debris themselves, they would not be eligible for reimbursement from the state. 

"Once the individual assistance is approved, they can apply directly to FEMA to cover the cost that was not covered by their flood insurance policy and that can include a lot of things for them. Without that IA designation, they're really stuck, so it's important for the federal government to step up and do that," Latham said. 

In the Sanctuary neighborhood in Jacksonville Beach, debris was still lined up in front of homes Tuesday, nearly two weeks since Hurricane Matthew hit. The neighborhood is just one of many waiting to learn if it will receive Individual Assistance from FEMA. 

"I stayed here knowing we had a second story that I could put boards on the windows as they blow out from the inside," said Don Sheen, who has lived in the neighborhood for 20 years. "We have some rebuilding to do -- wood floors, cutting out drywall, ripping up a lot of the carpeting."

Sheen and his wife were just two of the few residents in the Sanctuary that decided to stay in their homes during the storm. At one point, the water was over his head, Don Sheen said. 

While the waiting game continues, Latham has made a promise to the frustrated residents of the Sanctuary.

"We've actually made a commitment to the citizens of this homeowners association that we will clean it up. Even if we don't get our reimbursement, we'll clean it up. But we're hoping to wait to get the reimbursement authorization first," Latham said. "We're not going to let this go on much longer. There's no question."

Though residents feel stuck, Latham said he doesn't want his city to remain that way, which is why he's contacted the office of U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Florida, to help come up with a plan that will repair 80 percent of sand dunes that were damaged or destroyed in the hurricane. 

"The bottom line is without those zones, if we were hit by another storm, we would be devastated. So we have to work very quickly to get those reestablished," Latham said. 

A FEMA representative told News4Jax on Tuesday that they are working to conduct full assessments in Duval and Nassau counties, along with two others. Inspectors will be looking for major damage to homes, such as water on the first floors, water lines and damage to the outside structures. 

There is no estimated time when FEMA will determine if Individual Assistance and Public Assistance will be made available to families and businesses in those counties. 

Information for FEMA assistance

  • On the FEMA mobile app
  • Phone number: 1-800-621-FEMA (1-800-621-3362) 
  • Applicants who use 711 or video relay service may also call 800-621-3362. People who are deaf, hard of hearing or have a speech disability and use a TTY can call 1-800-462-7585.
  • The toll-free numbers are open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week.
  • Multilingual operators are available. Press 2 for Spanish, and press 3 for other languages. 
  • Mailing Address:
    P.O. Box 10055
    Hyattsville, MD 20782-8055
  • Find a FEMA assistance center near you: http://asd.fema.gov/inter/locator/home.htm

Click here for more information on FEMA’s Individuals and Households Program.

Disaster unemployment assistance now available

Floridians who have lost jobs as a result of severe storms and flooding during Hurricane Matthew may be entitled to federal Disaster Unemployment Assistance. 

The federal disaster declaration for Flagler, St. Johns, Putnam and Volusia counties allows the use of the disaster unemployment assistance funds for individuals in those counties who were affected by the storm.

“I have spoken firsthand with many families and business owners who were impacted by Hurricane Matthew," Scott said. "We are committed to helping these communities fully recover from this devastating storm, and helping Floridians get back to work is one of the most important ways to do so. Disaster Unemployment Assistance will provide necessary resources for individuals and families in Flagler, Putnam, St. Johns and Volusia counties, but there are many areas along our east coast that still need the federal government’s support. I continue to urge President Obama to make these designations today so all of the communities impacted by Hurricane Matthew can begin the recovery process.”

Federal Disaster Unemployment Assistance, administered by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, assists individuals who become unemployed as a direct result of a federally declared disaster and who do not qualify for regular reemployment assistance benefits.

The program also covers self-employed individuals, owners of farms and ranches, farm and ranch workers, as well as fishers and others who are not normally covered by state reemployment assistance benefits.

Applicants must file a request for disaster benefits by November 18, 2016. Applicants must be legal U.S. residents and must have been working in or residing in Flagler, St. John, Volusia and Putnam counties.

The individual must: (1) have become unemployed as a direct result of the disaster or (2) be unable to reach the place of employment as a direct result of the disaster or (3) have been scheduled to begin work and does not have a job or is unable to reach the job as a direct result of the disaster or (4) have become the major support for a household because the head of the household has died as a direct result of the disaster or (5) be unable to work because of an injury caused directly by the disaster.

To file a Disaster Unemployment claim, go to https://connect.myflorida.com or call 1-800-681-8102.