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By David E. Hubler
Contributor, EDM Digest
The 2019 Atlantic and Gulf Coast hurricane season won’t officially begin until June 1, but the National Hurricane Center in Miami already has its sights on the first potential big storm.
Subtropical Storm Andrea is on a northward track over the Western Atlantic and is expected to turn in a northeasterly direction later Tuesday. As of 2 A.M. Atlantic Time, winds at Andrea’s core were between 70 and 80 miles an hour.
Andrea is the latest proof that natural disasters pay no attention to calendars; they can strike anywhere and at any time. However, only about one-third of all Americans and 43 percent single family homes are prepared for a disaster, according to National Disaster Legal Aid.
A report by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), as reported on CNBC, found that damages from natural disasters in 2018 cost the nation $91 billion, the fourth highest total since NOAA began tracking the data in 1980.
2019 Hurricane Season, Despite Andrea, Predicted to Be ‘Slightly Less Active’ than 2018
Despite Andrea’s early appearance, the coming hurricane season is expected to be “slightly less active” than last year’s season. Nevertheless, IBM’s Weather Company predicts that the U.S. will experience 14 named storms including seven hurricanes, three of them Category 3 to 5 major storms.
That’s why the acting head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Pete Gaynor, is urging Americans to assume more responsibility for protecting themselves.
In a recent interview with Bloomberg News, Gaynor said most people see a natural disaster on TV and don’t believe it can happen to them. “They say, ’I’m not going to make the time or investment to protect my property. It’s too expensive.’” As a result, Gaynor added, “We haven’t solved the problem [of storm preparedness] in a significant way.”
FEMA Provides Financial Assistance for Losses Not Covered by Insurance
The federal agency has a number of programs aimed at mitigating personal losses from natural disasters like Andrea and helping local businesses. However, before federal relief funds can be dispersed, the president must first declare the affected locale a disaster area.
FEMA’s Individuals and Household Program (IHP) provides financial assistance and other services for losses caused by a disaster that are not covered by insurance or another source.
By law, FEMA is limited in the maximum amount of IHP financial assistance it can provide. However, the Stafford Act allows FEMA to adjust the annual cap on payments to reflect changes in the Consumer Price Index (CPI).
For example, FEMA’s average payments on flood loss insurance claims ranged from a low of $16,348 January 2019 to a high of $53,999 in October 2018, when Hurricane Michael killed 43 people and devastated the Florida Panhandle.
The Stafford Act also allows FEMA to “seek local companies within the disaster area for [the purchase of] goods and services” when “practical and feasible.” A FEMA publication explains the law in detail.
Free FEMA Guide Contains Information on All Assistance Programs
Further information is available in FEMA’s Individual Assistance Program and Policy Guide (IAPPG), which can be downloaded for free. The guide -- updated as recently as March 2019 -- contains policy statements for all Individual Assistance (IA) programs, including the Individuals and Households Program, the Mass Care and Emergency Assistance programs, and the Community Services programs.
The IAPPG is also a comprehensive policy resource for state, local, territorial and tribal governments and other entities that assist survivors with post-disaster recovery.
FEMA’s publication Help After A Disaster explains coverage assistance for area survivors, including:
- Housing Assistance
- Rental Assistance
- Lodging Expense Reimbursement
- Home Repairs
- Home Replacement
- Personal Property
- Moving and Storage
- Crisis Counseling
- Disaster Unemployment
The publication also contains information on how to apply for disaster assistance and how to appeal FEMA’s eligibility decisions, including the amount of the award. More information is available at www.DisasterAssistance.gov.
Disaster survivors may call FEMA toll-free at 800-621-3362 to register for assistance or check their application status. Disaster survivors who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have a speech disability and use a Text Telephone (TTY) may call 800-462-7585. Disaster survivors who use 711 or VRS (Video Relay Service) may call 800-621-3362.
If private insurance and funding from FEMA do not fully cover needed disaster assistance, the Small Business Administration (SBA) provides low-interest loans for businesses, private nonprofits, homeowners and renters. Loan applications are available online.