Residents of some Montana counties and Indian reservations — including Hill County and the Fort Belknap reservation — may now have some additional assistance available for flood problems.
The U. S. Department of Homeland Security announced Wednesday that President Barack Obama approved Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s request that individual assistance be part of the disaster declaration Obama made for Montana after flooding starting April 3 caused widespread damage in the state.
The disaster declaration Obama made June 17 had only covered public infrastructure. The new declaration now makes damage to private properties and businesses eligible for assistance.
“Many Montana families and businesses can now access an important tool to overcome the devastation and emerge from the flooding disaster stronger than ever, ” U. S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said in a release Wednesday. “Public assistance has been critical for Montana, but Individual Assistance will go the extra step toward helping our businesses reopen, get our ranchers and farmers back in the field and allowing families to clean up, rebuild and recover from flood damage. ”
U. S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., also applauded the announcement.
“Today’s announcement is long overdue and welcome news for Montana families, homeowners and small businesses still struggling in the wake of this year’s flooding, ” he said in a release. “Now our focus turns to rebuilding damaged property and protecting the jobs and livelihoods of Montanans affected by these floods. They deserve smart decisions about their future, which is why I asked for this assistance weeks ago.”
In addition to Hill County and Fort Belknap, the other areas eligible for individual assistance are: the Blackfeet and Crow reservations and Big Horn, Carbon, Cascade, Custer, Fergus, Garfield, Jefferson, Judith Basin, Lewis and Clark, Musselshell, Petroleum, Sweet Grass, Valley and Yellowstone counties.
Tester and Baucus both sent letters urging the president to expedite the declaration, requested by Schweitzer July 13.
Ricardo “Zuni” Zuniga, FEMA public affairs officer, said this morning that people should call in to the toll-free number, (800) 621-FEMA (3362) or TTY (800) 462-7585, to start the assistance proceess.
FEMA announced that the toll-free line will be in operation until further notice. Registration can be accomplished online anytime at www.disasterassistance.gov.
FEMA's Individual Assistance program includes a wide range of aid, including emergency home repair, temporary disaster housing and replacement grants for serious disaster-related needs and expenses not covered by insurance or assistance programs. For those insured, the government may help pay for basic needs not covered by insurance.
FEMA disaster assistance covers basic needs only and typically does not compensate eligible applicants for their entire losses. FEMA disaster aid is generally offered in the form of grants that do not have to be paid back.
SBA offers low-interest disaster loans for homeowners, renters and businesses of all sizes to repair or replace damaged or destroyed private property. SBA also offers Economic Injury Disaster Loans, low-interest working capital loan, s to small businesses and most private, non-profit organizations.
Residents must register with FEMA at the above numbers or online to be eligible for all forms of federal assistance. Filing damage reports with state or county emergency managers or voluntary agencies will not start the federal disaster assistance process.
Applicnats are asked to have the following information available when applying for assistance:
• Current telephone number;
• Address at the time of the disaster and current address;
• Social Security number, if available;
• A general list of damages and losses suffered;
• In cases where the applicant is insured, the names of the company and agent, as well as the policy number; and
• Bank account coding for those who wish to speed up assistance by using direct deposit.
“The best thing to do for people is to give a call to that 800 number and have that information ready, ” Zuniga said.
He said that FEMA outreach officials should be in the field in the next week or so, providing information. However, he said, those officials will not make initial contact.
Monica Lindeen, the state commissioner of insurance and securities, issued a warning last week about scam operators contacting property owners about providing government assistance.
“At some point we will have community relations people reminding people to register, but they will not be soliciting information from folks, ” Zuniga said.