FEMA Aid to Shore Dependent on Disaster Declaration
Federal money available to governments, residents in five counties included in federal declaration
Ocean and Monmouth counties may be eligible for disaster aid as Federal Emergency Management Agency officials work to assess damage that is still impacting thousands of residents almost a full week after Hurricane Irene stormed New Jersey.
Individual residents also will be able to register to receive aid for a variety of losses regardless of whether they carry a private insurance policy.
But such FEMA monies only are available as of Friday to residents of Bergen, Essex, Morris, Passaic and Somerset counties, per a federal disaster declaration made earlier this week. While the Shore continues to deal with power outages, the effects of flooding, and damage to homes and businesses, the severe impact of Irene on the five aforementioned counties sparked the initial federal declaration.
However, Ocean and Monmouth's exclusion may only be temporary.
FEMA teams have and continue to view damage around the state, including southern New Jersey, said Bill Vogel, FEMA federal coordinating officer. Counties that were not included in the initial declaration may be included by next week, he assured the press Friday afternoon during a conference call.
"We are aggressively working with the state of New Jersey to get (assessments) complete as quickly as possible," Vogel said.
The FEMA official said he expects the agency to have completed assessments on impacted communities by Tuesday. When asked if the federal disaster declaration would be expanded, Vogel was noncommittal, saying only that inclusion is dependent on the extent of damages.
Local and federal officials certainly believe the Shore region deserves the federal disaster designation and the money that potentially comes with it.
Congressman Frank Pallone, D-6, said Friday in Belmar, "I am going to push very strongly for (a disaster declaration)," he said. "This is crucial for us. We've had a lot of damage."
Ocean County freeholders made their case earlier this week in a letter to the White House and FEMA.
"Many of communities suffered severe damage from the storm," freeholder Director Joseph Vicari and Deputy Director Gerry Little wrote, according to a news release. "Flooding was a problem from the barrier islands to more than 30 miles inland. As of this date, we still have some bridges and roads closed due to damage from high water.
"More than 87,000 customers lost power during the storm, and thousands of our households have gone without electricity for nearly a week. High winds damaged some homes and businesses and toppled hundreds of trees throughout our 33 municipalities," Vicari and Little said in the letter.
Public, Individual Assistance
The federal agency will disburse funds to eligible counties through two programs — the Public Assistance and Individual Assistance programs.
Public Assistance will be available to pay for damage to public buildings, parks, facilities and affected infrastructure, including roads, bridges and water treatment facilities. Individual Assistance is just that — a fund available to residents and businesses who've suffered hurricane damage.
Vogel said FEMA works hand-in-hand with New Jersey emergency management officials to determine "priority" areas in need of assistance. "We go through a community and the state determines the priorities based on the severity of damage," he said.
Funds awarded under the Public Assistance program will be disbursed to the state of New Jersey, which will turn the assistance over to counties.
Individuals in counties afforded the federal disaster declaration are encouraged to file a claim under their own insurance policies first, Vogel said, although they may still be in line for federal aid.
"If they have additional expenses, they may be eligible for additional assistance from FEMA," he said.
While FEMA aid may be available to cover home repairs and damages, it's possible grants may be awarded for related expenses, including medical, dental, funeral and burial costs, according to a news release issued Friday by Gov. Chris Christie's office.
Individuals are encouraged to follow a three-step process to apply for FEMA grants:
- Register — Call 800-621-3362 from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. (800-462-7585 for the hearing- or speech-impaired). If residents prefer, they also can register online at www.disasterassistance.gov. The governor's office advises that residents will need their Social Security number, mailing address and insurance information upon contacting FEMA.
- Inspections — After an individual registers, a FEMA-contracted inspector will inquire about setting up an appointment to assess the affected property. Property owners must show proof of ownership, and renters must show documentation proving the unit was their primary residence during Hurricane Irene.
- Keep in Touch — The governor's office said residents must inform FEMA if there are any changes in their telephone number or mailing address. FEMA tries to reach applicants "numerous times" before a decision is made, the release said.
Christie, who visited Point Pleasant Beach Friday afternoon, said in the release he has asked the federal government for a disaster declaration covering all 21 New Jersey counties.
Tom Dunphy contributed to this report.