MONTGOMERY, Ala. – While the public may know the Federal Emergency Management Agency as the government entity that offers financial resources following disasters, FEMA is but one member of a team that brings much more.
Supporting the recovery is the coordinated effort of many federal, state and local partners, who together provide a wealth of programs and services to impacted communities and their residents.
Many volunteer agencies provide for the basic needs of survivors immediately following a disaster – a hot meal, a place to sleep and a change of clothes. Established organizations like the Salvation Army, United Way, Samaritan’s Purse, the American Red Cross and others provide these vital services until they are no longer needed.
Individuals, churches and neighbors also step in. As local governments begin to clean up and address damages, so do homeowners and others begin the task of recovering.
These volunteers assist in clearing debris, a task that can seem insurmountable for survivors. Crews from such organizations such as Mennonite Disaster Service, the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, Samaritan’s Purse and Team Rubicon have all responded to Alabama with experience, the tools and the equipment to begin repairing and rebuilding.
In Alabama, other groups of concerned residents have banded together with the state Emergency Management Agency, federal agencies including FEMA, local governments and volunteer groups to comprise the state’s Volunteer Agencies Active in Disasters (VOAD) to help disaster survivors recover.
VOADs, usually organized on a county-by-county basis, establish and operate what are known as Long Term Recovery Committees. The committees address a wide range of unmet needs that survivors can either not afford or are unable to provide for themselves.
FEMA Corps members are volunteers aged 18-to-24 who provides direct aid to survivors in their homes and elsewhere. They volunteer for 10 months and gain on-the-job training in the emergency management field.
Corps members are supplemented with other specialists to make up Disaster Survivor Assistance Teams, all of whom go door-to-door to provide information on registering for federal aid, guide people in the registration process and follow-up on pre- or post-disaster needs. They also coordinate with local, tribal and state governments and other partners. More than 8,000 Alabama homes were visited.
Among those 8,000 homes, the teams aided seniors, shut-ins, and people with disabilities as well as those who do not speak English to obtain federal disaster aid.
Opportunities for Employment
One of FEMA’s top priorities is to provide temporary full-time jobs to the community. In Alabama, these jobs range from human resource specialists, information technology, couriers, engineers, communications, finance and administration.
FEMA has employed 18 local individuals to fill a variety of positions.
Not only do these jobs bring work opportunities for the community, these employees bring local experience and a feeling for the community to the federal government.
Help with Child Care Costs
Childcare costs following a presidential disaster declaration have been added in 2014 as a reimbursable expense in some cases.
To be eligible, survivors must live in a declared county and use a licensed childcare service (center-based, group home, in-home or other provider). The children can be up to age 13, disabled children, as defined by federal law and who need assistance in caring for themselves, may be up to age 18.
They also must be occupants of the household, are listed on the Application for Disaster Assistance and are dependents of the applicant.
Costs per child may be awarded for a total of eight weeks, which may or may not be consecutive.
Helping to Rebuild Stronger and Safer
Lowe’s and Home Depot home improvement stores around the state teamed up with FEMA mitigation specialists to provide advice on how to rebuild homes and other structures in a way that will be less susceptible to flooding, wind damage and other hazards.
The outreach program took place throughout June. In the first five days of operation, more than 300 shoppers stopped to ask questions, with the most frequently asked question -- how to build to withstand tornadoes and high winds.
Overall, FEMA mitigation specialists spoke with more than 1,600 shoppers during the month.
The mitigation specialists also can offer advice on cleaning up mold and mildew, how electrical systems, furnaces and other appliances can be protected from flooding, how to build a safe room as well as information on the National Flood Insurance Program.
Disaster Legal Services
How do you go about recovering important legal documents that have been lost during the disaster? Another group of volunteers has stepped up to provide free legal assistance to survivors.
The Volunteer Lawyers Program of the Alabama State Bar Association offers low-income individuals and families with legal assistance on such topics as assistance with insurance claims, landlord/tenant problems, home repair contracts, consumer protection-foreclosure problems, replacement of important legal documents, drafting powers of attorney, preparation of guardianships and conservatorships, as well as referring individuals to local and state agencies for assistance.
Disaster legal services are available by calling the hotline phone number 888-857-8571 from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. In the Huntsville area of Limestone County, call 256-539-2275 and in Mobile and Baldwin counties call 855-997-2857.
A program that FEMA funds and has been completed in Alabama is Disaster Unemployment. The program, to which 63 individuals applied, is aimed at workers who would not qualify for regular unemployment insurance. It is operated by the state of Alabama.
Eligible workers included the self-employed who lived or worked in affected areas during the storm, those who are unemployed as a result of the storm, workers who were unable to reach their jobs as a result of the storm and those who were to begin employment but were unable to work because the business was damaged as a result of the disaster.
Individuals who became the primary or major wage earner due to the disaster-related death of the head of the household also may be eligible, as may workers who could not work because of an injury caused as a direct result of the storm.
Albie Lewis, federal coordinating officer for the Alabama disaster, said recovery needs to be inclusive of all disaster survivors.
“FEMA and all recovery partners work together to mitigate the tough, long-term whole community inclusive issues to make sure everyone gets information and access to recovery programs they need in an appropriate manner.”
All of these programs are available because FEMA, its state and federal partners and volunteer agencies are committed to providing help to those in need. In Alabama, these agencies will continue to work shoulder-to-shoulder to recover as long as needed.
FEMA’s mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.
Disaster recovery assistance is available without regard to race, color, religion, nationality, sex, age, disability, English proficiency or economic status. If you or someone you know has been discriminated against, call FEMA toll-free at 800-621-FEMA (3362). For TTY call 800-462-7585.
FEMA’s temporary housing assistance and grants for childcare, medical, dental expenses and/or funeral expenses do not require individuals to apply for an SBA loan. However, those who receive SBA loan applications must submit them to SBA to be eligible for assistance that covers personal property, transportation, vehicle repair or replacement, and moving and storage expenses.