Jacksonville residents turned down for tornado disaster aid shouldn’t take no for an answer because they could still be eligible for help, federal officials say.
A spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency said misunderstandings between the organization and victims can be common in the early stages of assistance after a disaster. Even if survivors have received a letter from FEMA denying their initial claim, they should appeal since there’s a chance they could still receive some help, he said. The announcement comes as FEMA is pushing to reach many more residents and Jacksonville State University students who have yet to register for aid even though they could be eligible.
Jonathan Gaddy, director of the Calhoun County Emergency Management Agency, said that some residents had recently reported receiving claim denial letters from FEMA for the March 19 tornado. Gaddy said he didn’t know how many letters had been sent, but that residents were being denied because they had insurance.
“Our concern is if they get a denial letter they’ll stop there, instead of getting their papers together and appealing,” Gaddy said. “That’s why we’re putting the message out, ‘Don’t get discouraged.’”
Bob Porreca, spokesman for FEMA, said Monday that he didn’t yet know how many Jacksonville residents had received aid denial letters. He recommended that people not give up on trying to get aid.
FEMA typically provides some money to help cover the costs of home repairs or to replace belongings following a disaster. The March 19 tornado that ripped through the city damaged or destroyed hundreds of homes and apartment complexes. The tornado also significantly damaged several buildings on the JSU campus.
“One of the things we always tell people is, if they get a letter of denial, to read it carefully, because there could just be a very small reason that could be fixed,” Porreca said.
Porreca noted that FEMA does not give residents money if they have full insurance coverage for damages.
“But if they have unmet needs ... insurance that does not cover all the costs, then that’s something FEMA could help with,” he said. “If their insurance covers, say, only 70 percent of the damage, then they should appeal that denial letter and make it clear what happened.”
Meanwhile, FEMA is still trying to reach many residents who haven’t registered for assistance but might be eligible.
The deadline to register for FEMA is June 25.
According to FEMA records, around 350 people in Calhoun County had registered for aid as of Saturday.
Since last week, FEMA has had teams of workers in the city, going door-to-door to register people. Also, FEMA has scheduled an event from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville to help people register and answer questions.
“Folks, if you have damage, then you need to register ... you never know if you might be eligible for help,” Porreca said. “Everybody knows about FEMA, but if they haven’t had any experience dealing with this, then they can be a little bit slow in registering.”
Porreca said some JSU students could also be eligible and should register.
“FEMA grants cover loss of personal property, like if you lost all of your clothes,” he said.
Buffy Lockette, spokeswoman for JSU, said the university recently reached out to students about federal aid.
“I know there’s been a push to let students know to register for FEMA assistance if they have losses,” Lockette said. “Apparently a lot of students haven’t been signing up.”
Lockette said the university has shared registration information with students on social media. On Friday, the university also sent the information through a JSU alert, typically used to warn students during an emergency.
“An alert allows us to send out voice announcements and text messages,” she said.
To appeal a FEMA denial letter or to register for aid, visit www.disasterassistance.gov, or call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or 1-800-462-7585 (TTY) for the hearing- and speech-impaired.