Focus on the Law: Disaster Resources

By Sharon Frankenberg,
Attorney at Law

Earlier this month, President Obama declared 35 East Tennessee counties (including Anderson, Blount, Campbell, Grainger, Jefferson, Knox, Loudon, and Sevier) major disasters due to damage done by winter storms during the week of February 15 through 22.  This disaster is on top of the deadly flooding and tornados suffered last year in many parts of the state.  What kinds of help are available to people who have been damaged in these kinds of disasters?

Federal assistance may be available from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). There are certain minimal citizenship/immigration requirements to qualify for help.  You may apply online at http://wwwdisasterassistance.gov.  If your home or its contents were damaged and you do not have insurance, an inspector will schedule an appointment to do an inspection.  If you have insurance you should file and pursue an insurance claim with your insurance carrier before you get an inspection by FEMA.  If you have federal flood insurance, FEMA will issue an inspection before receiving your flood insurance decision letter.  You may also qualify through FEMA for temporary living expenses that are not covered by flood insurance.

According to its website, FEMA can provide grants for “home repairs and replacement of essential household items not covered by insurance to make damaged dwellings safe, sanitary and functional.”  There are grants available to replace personal property and help meet medical, dental, funeral, transportation and other serious disaster-related needs not covered by insurance or other federal, state and charitable aid programs.  In addition, FEMA has relief programs to “provide crisis counseling for those traumatized by the disaster;  income tax assistance for filing casualty losses;  advisory assistance for legal, veterans benefits and social security matters.”  FEMA has a Tennessee-specific webpage found at http://www.fema.gov/news/event.fema?id=12789.

The Small Business Administration (SBA) offers loans and certain grants to businesses damaged during disasters.  If the SBA determines you cannot afford one of their loans, they will refer you to FEMA’s Individual and Household grant program for help.  Farmers whose crops, livestock, farm equipment, barns and the like have been damaged may receive assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  Contact the USDA Farm Services Agency to make a claim.  In Knox County the phone number is (865)523-3338, Ext. 2.

If you lose your job because of a disaster, you may qualify for Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA).  This is administered through the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.   You may be paid under your regular unemployment coverage.  Your employer will receive a non-charge for employment benefits paid as a direct result of a disaster.   Assistance is also available under this program for individuals who are not covered for regular unemployment.  This means self-employed workers and farmers whose source of income has been interrupted by severe storm damage may benefit from this assistance.

Obviously, this article does not cover every specific issue which might arise.  Contact an attorney to get advice and assistance with your unique situation.  Sharon Frankenberg is an experienced attorney licensed in Tennessee since 1988.  She is a sole practitioner who handles foreclosures, evictions, probate, collections and general civil matters.  She represents Social Security disability claimants and represents creditors in bankruptcy proceedings. Her office is in Knoxville and she may be reached at (865)539-2100.

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