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There's still time to get federal hurricane relief

Hernando County residents whose homes or businesses were affected during the hurricane season still have the opportunity to seek relief from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Small Business Administration.

And for many, their questions about assistance can now be answered face to face, just down the road.

A FEMA disaster recovery center, housed in a mobile trailer, has set up shop at the Ridge Manor Community Center at 34240 Cortez Blvd. FEMA and SBA caseworkers are on hand to help walk people through the process of getting aid.

Also, with storm victims across Florida still registering with FEMA to get help, the deadline to apply for assistance has been extended from Dec. 31 until Feb. 28.

"We have identified a significant number of people who are still applying," FEMA spokesman Ricardo Zuniga said. "And we don't want to deny assistance to anybody who is eligible."

According to Zuniga, some who were initially denied grant aid should not abandon hope, but seek a loan through the SBA.

Although everybody wants the free money FEMA offers, Zuniga said that by filling out a loan application, grant aid might be freed up.

For instance, Zuniga said, say a resident called the FEMA registration number, 1-800-621-3362, to get grant aid. That person might have been denied when it was learned they have home or property insurance.

But through the SBA loan application, which offers low interest payouts to renters, home owners and businesses, it might be discovered the person cannot pay back the loan he or she seeks.

If so, the person might be considered to have "unmet needs" and be eligible for FEMA grants.

Almost 4,300 Hernando residents have registered with FEMA for aid. About 1.2-million have done so statewide.

More than $3.4-million in grant aid has been awarded in Hernando, and almost $1-million in SBA loans.

The SBA loan program is the primary long-term source of relief for disaster victims offered by the federal government, Zuniga said. Over time, he said, the amount awarded through the SBA is sure to grow larger than the amount of FEMA grants awarded.

Zuniga urged affected residents to come to the mobile center and see whether SBA might be right for them.

The center is open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. It is set to close Jan. 8, but it might stay open longer if demand for help is steady.

Will Van Sant can be reached at vansantsptimes.com or 754-6127.

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