‘Disaster fatigue’ dampening storm-aid requests?

(left to right) Cheryl Brekke of FEMA, Carol Bishop, project manager for Darlington County Long Term Recovery Group, and Rev. Calvin Daniels of New Vision

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

If you suffered property damage from Hurricane Florence, there is still time to apply for Disaster Recovery assistance, but the Nov. 20 deadline is fast approaching and many Darlington County residents could be leaving money on the table.

Last Tuesday, Oct. 30, members of the Darlington County Long Term Recovery Group met with representatives from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), SBA (Small Business Administration) and Darlington County Emergency Management to discuss why so few eligible people have filed for financial help to repair their homes.

“The numbers that are being turned in to FEMA, people that are registering, are much lower than we expected,” said Molly Odom of Darlington County Emergency Management.

Odom said the number of Hurricane Florence damage reports received by the county’s Emergency Operations Center far outpaced the number of aid applications FEMA has received at its Darlington County DRC (Disaster Recovery Center).

“We’re trying to find out why people are not going to the DRC to apply for assistance,” said Carol Bishop, project manager for Darlington County Long Term Recovery Group. “We know so many homes have been damaged because we received those calls daily … now we want to get the word out that you can apply for help and you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help.”

Bishop and Odom both said that “disaster fatigue” plays a part in the reluctance to apply, as does the slow pace of receiving federal disaster reimbursement. Bishop noted that South Carolina has been hit with five major weather disasters over the past three years, and said that some local residents who suffered damage from the 2015 floods have still not received the financial help for which they applied.

“I’m sure they’re very frustrated, and that’s understandable,” said Bishop. She said that while the FEMA aid process can be long and discouraging, it’s important to stick with it – even when applicants receive an appeal letter or denial letter from FEMA.

“Sometimes they’ll get a letter that says they’ve been declined or are not qualified…then they get discouraged and decide they don’t want to mess with it,” said Odom.

“The letter is often just a first step, and when people let us know that they’ve received those letters, we will sit down and work with them, doing the appeals and whatever it takes until the last house in Darlington County is repaired,” Bishop said.

The Nov. 20 deadline also applies to low-interest physical disaster loans from the Small Business Administration (SBA). Leroy Frazier, SBA public affairs specialist, said that as of Nov. 1, their Office of Disaster Assistance has approved over $285 million to help businesses, private non-profit organizations (including churches), homeowners, and renters harmed by Hurricane Florence in North Carolina and South Carolina. Interest rates are as low as 3.675 percent for businesses, 2.5 percent for most private non-profit organizations, and 2 percent for homeowners and renters.

To apply for help, visit the FEMA Darlington County Disaster Recovery Center, located in the National Guard Armory at 1764 Harry Byrd Highway. The Darlington County Long Term Recovery Group will provide transportation for those who need help getting to the DRC. Call them at 843-332-3509 to request a ride.

Author: Duane Childers

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