By C.V. Moore
OAK HILL —
To date, Fayette County has the state’s highest number of storm survivors seeking reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), according to the agency. Officials are still doing outreach to affected residents, particularly those with disabilities.
Fayette comprised 430 of the 1,910 total applications received from the four counties declared eligible for individual assistance from FEMA after a storm on June 29 knocked out electricity and, in some cases, water services for extended periods.
“There are some substantial claims that have been made from the heavy winds,” says Bill Lindsey, a public affairs officer with FEMA who is working in Fayette County. “One just recently I saw was the whole front of a house was taken off.”
A total of $616,192 in reimbursements has been approved so far by FEMA for the hardest hit counties in West Virginia — Fayette, Raleigh, Nicholas and Kanawha.
Ten FEMA inspectors now out in the field have racked up 711 total inspections in the four counties. After an individual registers for the assistance, an inspector comes to the property to verify the damage.
Lindsey encourages anybody who had damage to their homes to come to a designated Disaster Recovery Center or call FEMA to register for individual assistance.
He is particularly concerned that people with disabilities know that they have resources and assistance available at the Disaster Recovery Centers (DRC).
“We find that many times people who have substantial disabilities are a little reluctant to come in,” he says. “Sometimes they are not comfortable registering over the phone or the Internet, so we encourage them to come into the DRCs.”
Every DRC is equipped with communication aids such as amplified phones and magnifying reading glasses. American sign language interpreters or video remote interpretation may be requested. Video relay service and captioned phones are also provided for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Materials are also offered in Braille and large print.
Staff at the DRCs are specially trained in assisting applicants with disabilities.
“Disasters have a negative impact on everyone in the community, but people with disabilities often face additional obstacles along the road to recovery,” says Federal Coordinating Officer Dolph Diemont. “Our goal is to make sure that every person has access to accurate and accessible information about state and federal recovery programs.”
Lindsey has met with a couple of challenges so far in West Virginia. He says the people here have a “pronounced, generous spirit,” which in some cases prevents them from applying for assistance.
“What we find with a lot of people who have had damages is there is a sense that other people can use this assistance better than they can,” he says.
In other cases, people are worried that receiving FEMA assistance will increase their income taxes or have a negative effect on their other benefits, such as Social Security. But Lindsey says that shouldn’t be a worry.
“The FEMA assistance are grants and they are nontaxable,” he says. “They have no effect on any other benefits you are receiving.”
If any other incentives are needed to apply, Lindsey assures residents that the process is going “very, very fast.” Right now it’s only taking about a day between registration and a site visit from an inspector.
DRCs are located at Glen Jean Armory in Fayette County; South Charleston Community Center in Kanawha County; the National Guard Armory in Nicholas County; and the Beckley Armory in Raleigh County. They are open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 6 p.m.
Residents can also apply for benefits online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov or by phone at 800-621-FEMA. Applicants who use TTY should call 800-462-7585.