ELIZABETHTOWN — As of Friday, Bladen County residents needing federal disaster assistance were able to start applying in person as FEMA opened a Disaster Recovery Center at the Powell-Melvin Agricultural Center, located at 450 Smith Circle in Elizabethtown.
DRCs are staffed with representatives from FEMA, North Carolina Emergency Management and the U.S. Small Business Administration. Guests can receive help applying for federal assistance, learn about the types of assistance available and the appeals process and get updates regarding applications. The center in Elizabethtown will be open Monday -Saturday from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m. and Sunday from noon until 5 p.m. until further notice.
Since the Oct. 10 federal declaration of a major disaster in North Carolina, FEMA has been assisting local folks. As of Wednesday, Oct. 26, more than 2,200 Bladen County residents have applied for federal help, and the organization has approved $1,316,396 in recovery aid for individuals in the Mother County.
“We continue to encourage people to go ahead and register,” said FEMA Media Relations Specialist Rita Egan. “Don’t delay; register today — that’s my mantra.”
Plenty of people are taking that advice. In North Carolina alone, a total of 18,664 applications have been filed and more than $52 million in aid has been approved.
Egan had another mantra as well, one that she hoped will shed light on frustration people may feel about not receiving as much money as they had hoped.
“We represent neighbors across the country,” she said. “We don’t necessarily help people get back to where they were before — just back on their feet. We can help in certain respects, but getting you back to where you were will be the job of the community. And we don’t replicate money you will receive for insurance.”
For most applicants, part of the process involves filling out paperwork for a small business loan, which often unnecessarily and detrimentally stops people in their tracks, according to Egan.
“If you don’t fill out the loan packet, the system believes you no longer want to participate in this process,” she said. “If you fill it out, you could be put back in line for additional grant money.”
“You have up to six months to decide if want to use it — you’re not being told you have to take it,” she added.
In addition to her two mantras, Egan elocuted what she called her “soapbox.”
“When verifiers come, they will know your name and social security number, and they’ll never ask for money,” she said, enunciating each word. “Don’t just look for a FEMA shirt — look for the badge. You should have an appointment with this person, and you should be expecting them and know their name, so look at the badge to make sure it matches.”
She further cautioned applicants to completely read correspondence from FEMA, because, despite requests for alterations, most correspondence begins with “Your application has been denied.” Careful reading might reveal that such is not the case, and further action on the applicant’s part will continue the process. Not having an adult on the premises or altered phone numbers are examples of why an applicant may receive this type of letter.
Individuals interested in obtaining federal aid may call 1-800-621-3362 or visit www.disasterassistance.gov. Residents have 60 days, or until Dec. 4, to apply.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.