Town Announces Public Meeting on Flood Buyouts

Bloomsburg SignBloomsburg Town Administrator Carol Mas issued a press release this morning announcing that an informational meeting will be held on Wednesday 23 November at 5:30PM in the Town Hall’s Council Chambers for Town residents interested in participating in the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP). This meeting follows up on the presentation FEMA made to the Town Council on Monday night.

All residents interested in possibly participating in the HGMP program, or who are curious about its requirements, scope, and limitations, are encouraged to attend.

The complete text of the press release follows:

PUBLIC INFORMATION SESSION
HAZARD MITIGATION GRANT PROGRAM

Wednesday, November 23, 2011 @ 5:30pm

Those residents that have suffered substantial damage to their homes due to Tropical Storm Lee and are interested in being acquired through the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program are asked to attend a public information session in Council Chambers on second floor of Town Hall on Wednesday, November 23, 2011 at 5:30pm. The requirements of the program will be presented and the paperwork for voluntary participation will be distributed.

Town Hall
301 E. Second Street
Bloomsburg, PA 17815-1870
Phone: (570) 784-7123
Receptionist: (570) 784-7703
Fax: (570) 784-1518

Hours of Operation:
8:00am to 4:30pm, Monday-Friday

FEMA Addresses Bloom Council on Buyouts

Representatives from FEMA addressed the Bloomsburg Town Council last night, reviewing the particulars of the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) and stressing that people who wish to apply for Acquisition (commonly referred to as Buyouts) should do so quickly. The deadline for submitting a Letter of Intent/Pre-Application has been extended to Wednesday, 30 November. The Application packet submission deadline has been extended as well, to Friday, 30 December.

The Letter of Intent/Pre-Application form can be downloaded from The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency. This is a direct link to PEMA’s downloadable PDF of the Letter of Intent.

In light of the deadline extension, Mayor Dan Knorr suggested that a meeting be held with interested Town residents early next week. No date has been set at the moment, but it will likely be held next Tuesday or Wednesday. The Bloomsburg Daily will update this article as soon as that information on the time and place of the meeting becomes available. Update, 16 November: The meeting will be held on Wednesday 23 November at 5:30PM in the Town Hall’s Council Chambers.

FEMA representative Michael Vath stated that 75% of the funding would come from the Federal government with the remaining funds provided by the State. 15% of the provided funds must be used for hazard mitigation projects. Mr. Vath estimated that at the moment $60-65 million is available through the HMGP, but suggested that due to the extent of the damage this number is likely to increase.

Mr. Vath explained that the HMGP is completely voluntary and no private citizen will be included without their consent and application. Mr. Vath also encouraged people who may be considering elevating or repairing their homes to apply as well since applicants may withdraw their application at any time.

It was also noted that if a property is approved for buyout under HMGP, that particular property must thereafter remain vacant, and is considered Open Space. In addition if the Army Corps of Engineers would use the property for the flood wall, then that property is not eligible for buyout under HGMP.

Time is Running Out – Only Two Weeks Left to Register for Disaster Aid

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Survivors of the storms and flooding that ravaged central and eastern Pennsylvania have only two weeks left to register with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for disaster assistance. The deadline to register is November 14, 2011.

Individuals who live, work, or own a business in the 29 Pennsylvania counties designated under the disaster declarations for Hurricane Irene and Tropical Strom Lee are eligible. The counties are Adams, Berks, Bradford, Bucks, Chester, Columbia, Cumberland, Dauphin, Delaware, Huntingdon, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lehigh, Luzerne, Lycoming, Monroe, Montgomery, Montour, Northampton, Northumberland, Perry, Philadelphia, Schuylkill, Snyder, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Union, Wyoming, and York.

The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and FEMA urge those who sustained disaster-related losses to register by the deadline, even if they are unsure of their eligibility.

November 14 is also the deadline to apply for a U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) disaster loan. For information about SBA loan applications, visit www.sba.gov/services/disasterassistance or call the SBA Customer Service Center at 1-800-659-2955. Those with speech or hearing difficulties may dial 1-800-877-8339. Loan application forms can also be downloaded from www.sba.gov.

There are four ways to register with FEMA:

  1. Call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362). Operators assist callers seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Help is available in most languages. If you have a speech disability or hearing loss and use a TTY, call 1-800-462-7585.
  2. Register online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov.
  3. Register using a tablet or smartphone by visiting m.fema.gov.
  4. If you use 711 or Video Relay Service (VRS), call 1-800-621-3362.

If you have a disability and need help registering, please contact FEMA at 1-800-621-3362 and ask for assistance.

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 1-800-621-FEMA (3362). For TTY call 1-800-462-7585.

Article Courtesy of FEMA

 

Disasters Can Severely Impact the Elderly

HARRISBURG, Pa. — The losses following Pennsylvania’s storms and flooding last month may be magnified for the elderly.

Seniors previously living on their own may be dependent on others for food, shelter and the necessities of daily living. Those used to assisted living may face upheaval in their normal routines or a change in their usual caregivers.

Additionally, the stress of the disaster itself can cause significant challenges.

Symptoms of stress unique to the elderly include:

  • Reliving events in their lives when they were traumatized or suffered severe losses.
  • Fear of losing their independence or self-sufficiency.
  • Fear of a decline in health and limitations on mobility.
  • Worry about limited financial resources, time, and physical ability to rebuild.
  • Fear of being put in an institution.
  • Withdrawal and isolation from family and friends.

When working with older adults after a disaster, it is important to:

  • Provide consistent verbal reassurance.
  • Assist them in recovering their physical possessions.
  • Return them to familiar surroundings with friends and acquaintances as soon as possible.
  • Make sure they have needed medical and financial assistance.
  • Help them re-establish social networks.
  • Monitor their nutritionaland medication needs.

For more information about behavioral health services available in your area, contact your county crisis hotline or mental health office. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Additional information about this disaster is available at www.fema.gov, and www.readypa.org.

Article courtesy of FEMA

Photo courtesy of Bloomsburg Health System

 

An Update on FEMA Funds and Mobile Homes

The Bloomsburg Daily had a chance to talk with Eugene Brezeny from the FEMA News Desk in Harrisburg this morning.  The goal was to get a status update on the amount of funds disbursed to Columbia County at this point, as well as to get an update on the status of FEMA mobile homes and when they might show up in the area.

In the statistics news, as of this morning (10/20/2011), FEMA has received 2329 disaster assistance applications from Columbia County for Tropical Storm Lee.  Of those, 1436 have been approved. Those approved applications represent $7 million in assistance to Columbia County.  According to Brezeny, that money is used for home repairs, rental assistance if a house is not fit to be lived in, and other needs that might not be covered by insurance.  To put this in perspective, at the statewide level, there have been 38,691 applications, and of those, 21,665 have been approved for a statewide total of $83.8 million in assistance for Tropical Storm Lee.  (Hurricane Irene is tracked separately and so far FEMA has provided $28.86 million in disaster assistance for those Pennsylvania victims, none of whom were in Columbia County.)

If you were turned down for FEMA assistance, it is important to remember that you can appeal that decision.  When you do that, you are essentially asking FEMA to review your case again.  An applicant’s first step in the appeals process is to explain in writing why you think the decision was incorrect.  You must include your name, date, and place of birth, address, FEMA application number, disaster number, and your signature.  The letter must be notarized, include a copy of a state issued ID card, or include the following statement: “I hereby declare under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct.”  Letters can be mailed to FEMA, National Processing Service Center, PO Box 10055, Hyattsville, MD 20782-7055, or faxed to 1-800-827-8112, Attn: FEMA.  More information is available in the FEMA applicant’s guide.

The FEMA mobile homes story is slightly less straightforward.  Mr. Brezeny stated that FEMA’s first priority is to get people back into their own homes.  If that can’t happen, FEMA provides rental assistance.  Thus, the first step is to quickly get the financial assistance to the area so people can repair their homes or find a suitable rental.  And even though FEMA is currently working with the state to coordinate rentals and make vacancy information readily available, he admitted that it is difficult in certain areas where there is not surplus housing.  At that point, he said, “We take it another step and plan for FEMA mobile homes.”  The only area that currently has a declared FEMA mobile home location is in Bradford County.  No other firm decisions have been made as of today.

However, he went on to say that “We know that time is ticking with cold weather upon us.”  He explained that FEMA was working on options for Columbia County, but finding a suitable location and working with local authorities takes a little time.  According to Brezeny, it takes 45-60 days to build out a FEMA park and that plans would be to start with a small number of units — probably around 15.  Other possibilities include working with a pre-existing commercial park, or simply placing mobile homes on a resident’s property.  But in that case, FEMA must work with local officials to ensure that those locations are not in the flood plain and allow for the mobile home placement under local regulations.  In addition, there needs to be access to utilities.

Brezeny understood that it was frustrating for victims who want some real details at this point, but he said “We are working vigorously to get everyone into the right housing. It just takes time.”

Can We Afford to Play Politics with Disaster Relief?

My heart goes out to my neighbors and friends in Fernville and the rest of the area that were hit hardest by this disaster.  I have witnessed an amazing response by so many individuals and organizations.  I’m proud to be a member of a community that is willing to help others in tough times.  It’s these values and principals that bind a community like ours together.I was amazed to see the initial clean up effort that occurred in Fernville soon after the flood — people and machinery working to clear debris, the American Red Cross offering food and water, meals being served in a food pavilion set up in the park, door-to-door delivery of cleaning supplies, and neighbors helping neighbors.  All of it was truly inspiring.  But now that destroyed homes are officially off-limits and owners are not allowed to enter them, a “wait and see” attitude has set in.  It is a shame to see the homes along Drinker Street in Fernville sit derelict.

As I have been contemplating the possible scenarios regarding destroyed homes, I started to think about the subject in relation to national politics.  And what I came up with is that I don’t know how people will be able to afford the demolition of their destroyed homes and other associated costs without assistance.  My assumption is that most people in flooded areas are going to struggle to afford it.  And specifically, I’m concerned about exactly who is going to pay for demolishing the property and making the land clean and safe again.

With budgets being cut on the federal and state levels, I fear that our local government is eventually going to be forced to pick up the tab.  It was just a few weeks ago that Congress (at the last second) appropriated funds to keep FEMA afloat.  Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) has argued that equal cuts need to be made elsewhere before allocating more funds to programs like FEMA.  Fortunately, for our local flood victims collecting FEMA monies, the argument failed to persuade lawmakers.  A legislative gridlock on this issue could have had a very close-up and personal effect on our community.

But if the political trend continues to slash mandatory spending in our federal programs such as aid to flood victims, then we may be faced with shifting this burden to state and local government. Earlier this year, many Republicans wanted to slash next year’s FEMA budget by 55%.  We may need to find revenue elsewhere, or be forced to raise local taxes, to aid in current and future recovery efforts if the responsibility is left to local government.

Just look at how much Bloomsburg spent on the curb side removal of trash.  Estimates put the figure at several hundred thousand dollars. The numbers add up quickly and it is an overwhelming burden to put on a small community like ours.

This is the reason we have federal and state assistance.  I strongly believe the federal and state emergency funding systems need to stay in place. Keep in mind, if we don’t have FEMA or PEMA, there won’t be any “buy outs.”

That being said, not all of the money needed is coming from the government.  Donations have been pouring in from all over.  First Columbia Bank donated $100,000 to flood relief.  Many more business have also contributed.  Individuals like former resident Gary Hock have contributed.  Gary donated $100,000 of his own money to the relief effort.

But is it smart or responsible to rely on the generosity of individuals to get us out of this mess?  I have profound appreciation and admiration for those contributing their time and money to the relief effort.   But can we expect these individuals and businesses to donate money to the next disaster?  My hope is that our community, with help from our state and federal governments, will be able to help those with destroyed homes sooner rather than later.

Have an opinion on a local subject?  Email us your opinion pieces and let the conversation begin.

FEMA Approves More Than $165.4 Million in Disaster Relief

HARRISBURG, Pa. — More than $165.4 million in disaster relief is approved for Pennsylvanians struck by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. The news was announced by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA).

FEMA’s Individual Assistance Program approved $107.4 Million in grants to eligible applicants for temporary housing, home repairs, personal property losses and other disaster-related needs such as medical, dental and funeral costs. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) approved close to $25 million in low-interest disaster loans and the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) contributed to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s recovery by settling $33 million in insurance claims.

This brings the total of amount of funds going to individuals impacted by the storms to $165.4 million.

“The level of funds approved means many residents and business owners are on their way to recovery,” said Federal Coordinating Officer Thomas J. McCool. “Getting the funds into their hands as quickly as possible is our goal.”

Mr. McCool’s comments were echoed by his counterpart at PEMA.

“Reaching this milestone of over $165 million is very meaningful,” said PEMA Commonwealth Coordinating Officer John Forr. “It tells us families and businesses will soon rebound from these disasters.”

To register for disaster assistance call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or TTY 1-800-462-7585. For those using 711 or Video Relay Service (VRS), call 1-800-621-3362. Operators are multilingual and calls are answered seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. You can also register online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov or by smart phone or tablet at m.fema.gov. If you have a disability and need help registering, don’t hesitate to contact FEMA to ask for help.

Here is a summary of disaster assistance at close of business, October 13, 2011:

  • $107.4 million approved for Disaster Assistance;
  • $99.3 million in housing assistance for personal property loss, medical costs and other serious disaster-related expenses not covered by insurance
  • $8.1 million in personal property loss, medical costs and other serious disaster-related expenses not covered by insurance
  • $25 million in SBA approved disaster loans;
  • $33 million in NFIP claims settled;
  • 79,473 individuals registered with FEMA for disaster assistance;
  • 22 Disaster Recovery Centers (DRCs) including the counties of Berks, Bucks, Bradford, Chester, Columbia, Cumberland, Dauphin, Delaware, Lancaster, Lebanon, Luzerne, Lycoming, Montgomery, Northumberland, Philadelphia (2), Schuylkill, Snyder, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Wyoming and York (Bucks DRC closed on 10/12, Chester, Cumberland and Montgomery DRCs close at 7 p.m on 10/14);
  • 20,425 visitors were helped at the DRCs;
  • 66,449 inspections of damaged properties completed.

The following is a list of the DRCs with the number of applicants who visited to date.

Disaster Designated County: No. of Visitors

Bradford: 1223
Columbia: 1987
Dauphin: 2285
Lycoming: 1531
Luzerne: 1513
Wyoming: 1125
Sullivan: 516
Lebanon: 1733
Philadelphia (1): 2081
Susquehanna: 321
Lancaster: 407
Chester: 231
Montgomery: 635
Schuylkill: 434
Snyder: 317
Bucks: 1295
Philadelphia (2): 757
Cumberland: 115
Delaware: 1081
Northumberland: 558
York: 244
Berks: 36

Article Courtesy of FEMA

Photo Courtesy of Liz Roll, FEMA

FEMA at Lowes through Wednesday

FEMA hazard mitigation specialists are on hand through Wednesday at the Lowe’s home improvement store in Bloomsburg to provide information about ways to rebuild or remodel that can reduce the risk of damages from future disasters.

They also will be there to answer questions about FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program.

Rebuilding or repairing a home after a disaster can be a daunting task – but, with the right information, homeowners can build back safer, smarter and stronger.

FEMA specialists are available in Columbia County to provide that information through Wednesday, October 12.

FEMA Mitigation Outreach
Lowe’s
50 Lunger Drive
Bloomsburg, PA 17815
10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Wednesday

Online help is also available at the following websites:

Article Courtesy of FEMA
Photograph Courtesy of FEMA

 

Deadline Nears to Apply for Disaster Assistance

The deadline is nearing for residents and business owners who had damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee to apply for disaster assistance. The registration deadline is November 14, 2011. The deadline to submit a disaster loan application to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) for disaster-related losses is also November 14, 2011.

Officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) urge anyone who has not applied for assistance to call FEMA if they suffered damage from the storms and live, work or own a business in one of the following counties designated under the disaster declarations: Adams, Berks, Bradford, Bucks, Chester, Columbia, Dauphin, Delaware, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lehigh, Luzerne, Lycoming, Monroe, Montgomery, Montour,  Northampton, Northumberland, Perry, Philadelphia, Pike, Schuylkill, Snyder, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Union, Wyoming or York County.

“Don’t miss out on the assistance that can help you recover,” said Federal Coordinating Officer Thomas J. McCool. “Even if you have insurance it may not cover certain costs resulting from the storms.”

FEMA’s 800 number is 1-800-621-FEMA (3362). Operators take calls seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Disaster assistance applicants who have a speech disability or hearing loss and use TTY, should call 1-800-462-7585 directly. For those who use 711 or Video Relay Service (VRS), call 1-800-621-3362. You can also register online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov or by smart phone or tablet at m.fema.gov. If you have a disability and need help registering, please don’t hesitate to contact FEMA to ask for help.

Applicants who have questions about the disaster assistance programs or questions about an application they already filed can call FEMA’s toll-free number listed above or visit a Disaster Recovery Center (DRC). To locate a DRC near you visit fema.gov/drclocator.

For more information about SBA, call the SBA Customer Service Center at 1-800-659-2955, between  8 a.m. and 9 p.m., Monday through Friday. Affected residents may apply online at disasterloan.sba.gov/ela/. Applicants may also visit the SBA Web site atwww.sba.gov/services/disasterassistance or e-mail disastercustomerservice@sba.gov.

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.

Article Courtesy of FEMA

Photo Courtesy of FEMA/Bill Koplitz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flood Insurance Basics

The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is a somewhat misunderstood system.  According to the FEMA website (who runs the NFIP):

“The NFIP is a Federal program created by Congress to mitigate future flood losses nationwide through sound, community-enforced building and zoning ordinances and to provide access to affordable, federally backed flood insurance protection for property owners … Participation in the NFIP is based on an agreement between local communities and the Federal Government that states that if a community will adopt and enforce a floodplain management ordinance to reduce future flood risks to new construction in Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHAs), the Federal Government will make flood insurance available within the community as a financial protection against flood losses.”

The first point of confusion is that some believe that flood insurance is part of  a homeowner’s insurance policy.  This is generally not the case as most homeowner’s policies do not cover flood damage.  Another point of confusion is related to disaster recovery money. Federal disaster assistance may be directed at the community after the President declares it a disaster area, but those monies typically come in the form of a low interest loan to help cover flood damage.  You will generally not be compensated for your losses in the same way you are with traditional insurance money.

Another frequently related story seems to focus on residents saying they were previously not “allowed” to get flood insurance. In the town of Bloomsburg, that is simply not the case.  While municipalities have to agree to be part of the program, the town of Bloomsburg and neighboring areas are all members.  According to the town, “Any house in Bloomsburg can be covered by a flood insurance policy. Detached garages and accessory buildings are covered under the policy for the lot’s main building.”  In addition, Beaver, Benton, Berwick, Briar Creek, Catawissa, Danville, Fishing Creek, Hemlock Township, Main, Mifflin, Millville, Montour Township, Orangeville, Scott Township, and Stillwater all participate in the NFIP.

Policies can cover the structure, contents, or both.  Structural coverage protects the basic structure of the home — basically anything that would stay with the house if it were sold.  Contents coverage protects personal contents inside the home. Both low risk and high risk properties can be covered.  And low risk properties can receive the same coverage that high risk ones do. For a sampling of rates, click here.  An important thing to remember is that if you are in a high risk area and have received federal disaster recovery assistance, you will be required to purchase flood insurance as long as you own the home.  In addition, you will be legally required to inform potential buyers of the need to carry flood insurance on the property if you sell the house.

If you visit the floodsmart.gov website, you can get an instant flood risk profile.  Simply enter your address and you can find out what type of risk level your property faces, what your flood insurance premiums would be for the structure, contents, or both, as well as see a listing of agents who can sell you the policy locally or nationally.  All agents must sell the NFIP policies at the same rates.  But don’t wait around until the next flood is coming.  It takes 30 days for flood insurance to take effect so, if you wait, you may not be able to get coverage in time.

Written by Jen Ralston and Kristin Camplese