FEMA Shares Latest Updates & Clears Up Misinformation

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FEMA shared the following updates over the weekend:

Survivors can register for FEMA assistance by going on-line to www.disasterassistance.gov or by calling 1-800-621-3362 for voice, 711, or Video Relay Service. Survivors who are deaf, hard of hearing or who have difficulty speaking and use a TTY, should call 800-462-7585 directly. The same number can be used for 711, VRS and other relay services.

The FEMA Registration Deadline for Irma and Maria has been extended to December 18.

To contact FEMA Multi-Family Repair and Lease Program, email FEMA-USVI-MLR@FEMA.DHS.GOV.

Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) has been extended to December 29 for both Hurricanes Irma and Maria. DUA is funded by FEMA but administered by the Territory.

Survivors that lost their jobs as a result of the hurricanes should register with the Virgin Islands Department of Labor (not with FEMA) at the following locations:

  • St. Croix: USVI Department of Labor, 441 Sion Farm, Christiansted; Monday-Friday
  • St. John: USVI Legislature, St. John Annex, 1D Cruz Bay; Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays
  • St. Thomas: USVI Department of Labor, 2353 Kronprindsens Gade; Monday-Friday

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is making the Emergency Prescription Assistance Program (EPAP) available for uninsured survivors to ensure they have access to medicines and medical equipment.

  • The free program provides a 30-day supply of covered drugs and medical supplies that can be renewed every 30 days for as long as the program is active.
  • People who live in the disaster area and do not have any form of prescription insurance should call the EPAP enrollment toll-free hotline at 1-855-793-7470.
  • The current enrollment period runs through Jan. 31, 2018.

Visit the FEMA USVI Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/FEMAUSVirginIslands/ to get trusted information with the ongoing recovery effort.

On St. John Disaster Recovery Centers are located in Cruz Bay at the USVI Legislature Building and in Coral Bay at the old Town and Country Building. They are open 8 am to 5 pm.

Individual Assistance Summary Total*
Registrations 35,246
Individual Household Program Disbursed $22,504,204
Housing Assistance $ Disbursed $17,984,679
Other Needs Assistance $ Disbursed $4,519,525
*Total for both Hurricanes Irma and Maria

The Small Business Administration (SBA) offers low-interest disaster loans to help homeowners and renters as well as businesses of all sizes and private non-profit organizations to cover the cost of replacing lost or disaster-damaged personal property. These disaster loans cover losses not fully compensated by insurance or other recoveries and do not duplicate benefits of other agencies or organizations.

It is important that survivors know they do not have to accept an SBA loan if one is offered. If they do not qualify for a loan, SBA will refer them back to FEMA and they could be considered for other FEMA grants for Other Needs Assistance. Contact SBA’s Disaster Assistance Customer Service Center at 800-659-2955 or disastercustomerservice@sba.gov. Survivors who are deaf or hard of hearing may call TTY 800-877-8339.

There have been a few inquiries on Letters of Eligibility. To read the full release, click here. Federal disaster assistance is designed to help with uninsured or underinsured losses caused by the disaster. The disaster assistance gives many a starting place or “hand up” to begin the recovery process. Applicants who wish to appeal a decision may do so in writing within 60 days from the date the ineligibility letter was received. Guidelines for appeals can be found in the Applicant’s Handbook sent to everyone who registered with FEMA.

Clearing Up Misinformation

Questions have come up around FEMA Inspectors who visit after survivors have applied for disaster assistance.

There is misinformation that FEMA inspectors do not utilize text messaging – this is not exactly true. FEMA inspectors sometimes text message their disaster survivors in order to gain access for inspections. Cell service isn’t 100% here in USVI so FEMA inspectors use other avenues of communications to make contact with disaster survivors. A good way for disaster survivors to verify that a FEMA inspector is legitimate is to ask the FEMA inspector first to verify the survivor’s FEMA registration number. FEMA inspectors do not ask for money or payment fees or bank account information over text messages.

Below are a few other rumors and facts to help inform Virgin Islands residents:

Rumor: You have to apply to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) in order to qualify for assistance from FEMA.

Fact: FEMA Housing Assistance is not dependent on a survivor’s SBA loan application status. FEMA has provided more than $22 million to Virgin Island survivors of hurricanes Irma and Maria for temporary housing assistance and other needs, and FEMA also provides grants for emergency home repairs. FEMA urges survivors who have received an application for an SBA loan to complete and return the package. Since FEMA housing repair grants are for emergency repairs only, SBA home loans can allow survivors to more fully rebuild their damaged or destroyed homes. Survivors do not have to accept an SBA loan if one is offered, but if they submit the application and do not qualify for an SBA loan, they may be considered for additional assistance from FEMA for grants for personal property, transportation, and other essential needs.

Rumor: FEMA employees earn a commission for each disaster survivor they register for assistance.

Fact: FEMA staff neither charge a fee nor earn a commission for registering survivors. Because ongoing communications challenges in the U.S. Virgin Islands make it difficult for survivors to register online or call our registration hotline, FEMA staff are out in communities across the islands to help with registrations. We want to ensure every survivor has an opportunity to register with FEMA before the December 18 deadline.

Rumor: If you register with FEMA you will receive $500 for immediate needs.

Fact: FEMA had authorized up to $500 per eligible household for Critical Needs Assistance. The time period for that assistance has now expired.

Rumor: It is difficult to get updates on the status of applications for low-interest disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).

Fact: Survivors may contact SBA at any time with questions about their application. They may call the SBA Customer Service Center at 800-659-2955 or TTY 800-877-8339. They may also send an email requesting updated information to disastercustomerservice@sba.gov. SBA loan specialists are also available to assist survivors at Disaster Recovery Centers throughout the territory.