For days, Florida victims of Tropical Storm Debby's wet wrath waited for word from Washington, D.C., that help could be on the way.
That word for Hernando, Pasco and Pinellas counties came this week. All three are now on the list of Florida counties designated as disaster areas, making federal assistance available to individuals and families.
In all three counties, flooding caused most of the damage. Now the clock is ticking for residents who want help picking up the soggy pieces of their homes and businesses and who won't get insurance money to do it.
The first step is to notify your insurance agent of the damage and start the process to determine what, if anything, may be covered, said Bettina Hutchings, a spokeswoman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
At the same time, residents and business owners should register with FEMA, Hutchings said. Those who do not register by the Sept. 6 deadline will not be eligible for aid.
FEMA can provide grant money for disaster recovery that does not have to be repaid. But the primary source of federal disaster aid comes from the Small Business Administration in the form of low-interest loans, so individuals should try to secure one of those first, Hutchings said.
Loans of up to $200,000 could be available to help repair or replace homes not covered by insurance. Up to $40,000 in loans is available to repair or replace property affected by the disaster, such as clothing, furniture and vehicles.
Business owners could be eligible for loans up to $2 million to meet financial obligations and operating expenses, and to repair or replace buildings, machinery and other property.
Interest rates on the loans can be as low as 1.9 percent.
Individuals who are not eligible for SBA loans are then considered for FEMA grant money. Money is available to rent temporary shelter, to repair a portion of a home to make it livable and to overcome "disaster-related hardships, injury or adverse conditions," according to the FEMA website.
The money can be used to cover the cost of medical attention, clothing, cleanup supplies, moving and storage expenses, and damaged vehicles, among other things.
"FEMA is not an insurance company," Hutchings said. "We're not going to make you whole. We're just going to get you back on the road to recovery."
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or [email protected]