Flooding damage aid on way

VERMONT — Addison County residents whose homes or businesses have been damaged by recent severe storms and flooding should be aware that many federal and local programs are now in place to help aid the recovery process.
Whether you are an individual whose property has sustained damage that impedes your ability to get to work, or a company that has seen a downturn in business due to flood-related damages, you may be eligible for aid from the state — but you won’t know if you don’t apply.
The record-setting rainfall between January and May culminated in a bout of devastating floods that led President Barak Obama to declare seven Vermont counties, including Addison County, federal disaster areas. As a result, agents from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have been stationed in Vermont and are now sorting through applications for assistance, in both the private and public sectors.
Robert Hockensmith, a FEMA agent working in Vermont, said that the agency is here to help Vermonters recover from the flood damage, whether that means providing assistance to individual homeowners or helping repair public property, such as bridges, roads and levees.
“Our function is to support the state whenever they need help,” said Hockensmith. “We have individual assistance that’s available, (and) we have public assistance that’s available.”
According to Hockensmith, any Vermont resident within the disaster areas, which includes all of Addison, Chittenden, Essex, Franklin, Grand Isle, Lamoille, and Orleans Counties, can apply to FEMA for assistance, although they should first check to see what damages, if any, will be covered by their insurance company.
Within Addison County, there have been roughly 20 to 30 applications filed so far, both from individuals and for public assistance, mainly from towns such as Shoreham, Bridport, and Ferrisburgh that border Lake Champlain.
In some cases, FEMA will offer grants to individuals that do not have to be repaid. Those who don’t receive grants, however, are still eligible to receive low-interest loans, often at around 2 percent, from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). The repayment period for these loans often ranges between 10 and 20 years, and all money received from FEMA or SBA is tax-free.
Hockensmith feels that the relief effort is going quite well so far, but he is adamant that his agency cannot help anyone who does not first apply for aid. Even property that has sustained relatively minor damage may be eligible for assistance from FEMA. 
“We’re hearing people say that they don’t believe that they have enough damage to warrant applying,” said Hockensmith, “but you won’t know until you apply.”
To that end, Hockensmith said that FEMA plans to be a presence in the relief effort until the job is done.
“We’re not going anywhere until the job is complete.”
FEMA is not the only group offering aid to Vermonters whose lives have been affected by flooding. Other federal and local agencies have chipped into the effort as well.
The Vermont Economic Development Authority has taken action to help commercial businesses affected by the floods to remain operational. Gov. Peter Shumlin announced last Thursday that 41 businesses in disaster areas have received loans between $5,000 and $25,000, all of which carry no interest for one year, and 1 percent interest for the following five years.
“These businesses needed financial assistance quickly to replace equipment, repair damaged buildings and make other repairs needed to stay open or to reopen after the floods,” said Gov. Shumlin, in a press release. “I’m really pleased that we were able to get employers the help they needed so quickly.”
For farmers attempting to deal with the heavy rainfall, the organizations Rural Vermont and Farm Aid have teamed up to provide “micro-grants” of $500.000 to struggling farms.
“Rural Vermont is extremely aware of the impact that economic difficulties can have on Vermont farms,” said Jared Carter, executive director of the small nonprofit Rural Vermont, in a press release. “While we cannot control the weather, we can use the financial resources available to us in order to help Vermont’s family farms cope with this natural disaster.”
Other federal agencies are also offering assistance. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has offered myriad forms of aid to affected individuals, including a redirection of funds from Community Development Block Grants to rebuilding damaged property, as well as offering federally guaranteed loans to state and local governments for housing rehabilitation, economic development, and repairing public infrastructure.
The Internal Revenue Service has also extended the opportunity for tax relief to affected areas by postponing certain deadlines for residents and business owners by several months.
Residents whose ability to work has been affected by the flooding may also be eligible to receive Federal Disaster Unemployment Assistance until Dec. 17, 2011. If you cannot work because of personal injury or unavailable transportation due to the flooding, or if the flooding has damaged your workplace or severely affected its ability to do business, you may be able to collect Disaster Unemployment Assistance. The deadline for applying to receive assistance is July 25.
The severe storms and flooding of the last few months has left many Vermont residents in dire straights. Volunteer organizations such as the Red Cross have extended relief efforts to all affected counties, and several federal and local organizations and agencies have offered assistance to those who have experienced damage.
Amidst the neighborly spirit of service and assistance, however, SBA officials have warned of scam artists who might try to pose as federal agents and extract fees for assistance in filling out loan applications or assessing property damage. These are services that federal agents offer for free, and citizens should be wary of anyone offering to perform such services for a fee.
Homeowners, renters and business owners who suffered flood-damage or loss should call the FEMA registration line at 800-621-FEMA (3362), or register online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov.
Reporter Ian Trombulak is at [email protected]

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