Rebuilding Vermont After Hurricane Irene:
Questions and Answers
March 14, 2011
As you know, Tropical Storm Irene was one of the worst natural disasters ever to hit Vermont. The flooding caused a number of deaths, destroyed or severely damaged more than thirteen hundred homes, washed-out more than two thousand roads and bridges, damaged hundreds and farms and business, and caused more than half a billion dollars in damage.
Senator Leahy, Congressman Welch and I have been working closely with Governor Shumlin to do everything we can to make sure that Vermont receives the resources from the federal government that we need to rebuild our communities as quickly and successfully as possible. We have accomplished much in the six months since the storm - but clearly, we have more work to do.
The deadline for applying for FEMA and SBA assistance has now passed (except for SBA business economic injury loans which have a June 1, 2012 deadline), but many Vermonters are still waiting to hear on FEMA and/or SBA appeals, or from their insurance companies. I understand this can be stressful, as there are a number of agencies involved. I hope the information presented below is helpful in terms of understanding the process. If you need further information or assistance, please do not hesitate to call my office at 1-800-339-9834 (toll free), or 802-862-0697. You can also contact us online by clicking here.
Governor Shumlin and his team in Montpelier have done an outstanding job helping Vermont rebuild and they have two excellent websites with information to assist Vermonters with disaster recovery. Those websites can be accessed by clicking on these links: http://www.vtstrong.vermont.gov/, http://www.vermontdisasterrecovery.com/.
I am hopeful that an estimated $20 million will come into Vermont as a result of a provision I entered into the Transportation Bill, which allows a Federal Highway Administration emergency relief program to cover the entirety of the cost of road repairs in states recovering from an extreme natural disaster like Irene. The measure has passed the Senate, and is awaiting passage in the House.
I have been deeply moved by the compassion and good will that Vermonters have extended to their friends and neighbors who were stricken by this disaster. I would like to especially commend and thank our emergency responders, the Vermont National Guard, and local and state officials for the remarkable job they have done - and are continuing to do - to assist communities and individuals in getting back on their feet.
Once again, if my office can be of help in any way, please do not hesitate to contact us.
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders
- If my property or business was damaged in the storm, or if I have immediate needs such as food or shelter, what should I do first?
- How do I apply for FEMA Individual Assistance?
- Can you explain more about what assistance may be
available to Vermonters?
- What does FEMA "Individual and Household Assistance" cover?
- What help is there for renters and homeowners through the Small Business Administration, and how do I apply?
- Should I wait until I am approved for disaster assistance before making repairs to my home?
- What if I get rejected for FEMA Assistance? Is there an appeal process?
- Should I move back into my home if it is damaged?
- I have flood insurance. How do I file a flood insurance claim?
- I am a senior citizen. Will I lose my lose Social Security or Medicare benefits, or have to pay additional taxes if I receive FEMA Individual Assistance benefits?
- Are there other local resources to help me rebuild, or to find an apartment?
- Where can I find out more about disaster unemployment benefits?
- I own a business that has suffered flood damage. What Small Business Administration assistance is available?
- What other resources are available for businesses?
- I am a farmer, and my farm has suffered damage. How can I get help?
- I am a mayor, town manager or serve on a selectboard; where do I go to report storm damage, and what help is available now?
- How do I find the most recent information on road and bridge closures?
- My quarterly taxes are due and I can't do the paperwork because of the flood. What do I do?
- Dealing with the flood has taken me into issues where I need legal advice. Where can I obtain legal guidance?
- Where can I get more information about Vermont's recovery efforts?
- I want to help my neighbors and fellow Vermonters who are in need. What can I do?
- Do you still have questions?
1. If my property or business was damaged in the storm, or if I have immediate needs such as food or shelter, what should I do first?
In the days following the storm, Many Vermonters registered with 2-1-1. While 2-1-1 is an excellent information and resource service that may be able to help with immediate needs such as food or shelter, it is not the same as registering for FEMA assistance. Registering directly with FEMA is the only way to access federal disaster assistance. Read on to learn how to apply, and for information about what assistance may be able available.
2. How do I apply for FEMA Individual Assistance?
There are three ways to register for FEMA assistance:
- Call the toll-free registration number at 1-800-621-3362.
- Register and apply online at www.disasterassistance.gov
- Apply in person at a Disaster Recovery Center.
The deadline to apply was Nov. 15.
3. Can you explain more about what assistance may be available to Vermonters?
Individual Assistance is available for individuals and business owners for housing, disaster unemployment, legal services, crisis counseling, and other disaster-related needs. While some assistance is available in the form of grants through FEMA, most individual disaster assistance from the Federal government is in the form of loans administered by the Small Business Administration (SBA).
Important Note: Individual Assistance is available for residents of: Addison, Bennington, Caledonia, Chittenden, Franklin, Lamoille, Orleans, Orange, Rutland, Washington, Windham, and Windsor Counties.
4. What does FEMA "Individual and Household Assistance" cover?
Vermonters may be eligible for up to $30,200 in grants through FEMA's Individuals and Households Program (IHP). There are three categories of help:
- Temporary Housing: To rent a different place to live, or a government provided apartment when rental properties are not available. Search for information about housing rental resources.
- Repair: For homeowners to repair damage not covered by insurance, to make a primary residence safe, sanitary, and functional.
- Replacement: For homeowners to help replace homes destroyed in the disaster.
- Permanent Housing Construction: Direct assistance or money for the construction of a new home. This type of help is available only when no other type of housing assistance is possible.
For necessary expenses and serious needs caused by the disaster, including:
- Disaster-related medical and dental costs.
- Disaster-related funeral and burial cost.
- Clothing; household items (room furnishings, appliances); tools (specialized or protective clothing and equipment) required for your job; necessary educational materials (computers, school books, supplies).
- Fuels for primary heat source (heating oil, gas).
- Clean-up items (wet/dry vacuum, dehumidifier).
- Disaster damaged vehicle.
- Moving and storage expenses related to the disaster while disaster-related repairs are being made to the home.
Click on any of these links for information about:
5. What help is there for renters and homeowners through the Small
Business Administration, and how do I apply?
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) can make federally subsidized Home Disaster Loans to homeowners and renters to repair or replace disaster-related damages to homes or personal property. Renters and homeowners may borrow up to $40,000 to repair or replace clothing, furniture, cars, appliances, etc. damaged or destroyed in the disaster, and homeowners may apply for up to $200,000 to repair or replace their primary residence to its pre-disaster condition.
Any proceeds from insurance coverage will be factored in when SBA determines the loan amount you are eligible for. The SBA is not permitted to duplicate any benefits. For more information, and to apply, click here: www.sba.gov/content/home-and-personal-property-loans
The deadline to apply was Nov. 15.
Completing a SBA loan application does not commit to you to taking a loan. In fact, in order to be eligible for FEMA grants for personal property (such as furniture or computers), vehicle damage, or moving and storage expenses, you must first complete a SBA loan application.
6. Should I wait until I am approved for Disaster Assistance before making repairs to my home?
No one can say for sure whether you will be eligible for FEMA or other federal assistance. But it is important that if you start making necessary repairs before being approved, you must document the damage and the work you have done to repair the damage:
- Take lots of photos and document the damage
- Keep all receipts
- Document all volunteers who are helping out
If possible, contact FEMA and/or SBA before you start any work.
7. What if I get rejected for FEMA Assistance? Is there an appeal process?
Yes, you may appeal any decision. Appeals may relate to your eligibility, the amount or type of help provided to you, late applications, requests to return money, or denial of continued assistance. More on the appeals process here: www.fema.gov/assistance/process/case_review.shtm
8. My land is facing immediate damage by a river or stream, is there help available?
The Natural Resources Conservation Services administers the Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWP) that can help protect property that is in threat of further damage if not immediately repaired. Call 951-6796 for information.
9. I have flood insurance. How do I file a flood insurance claim?
For good information about filing a claim under the National Flood Insurance Program, click here: www.floodsmart.gov/floodsmart/pages/preparation_recovery/file_your_claim.jsp For tips on actually filing, visit: www.floodsmart.gov/floodsmart/pdfs/Tips_for_Filing_Your_Flood_Insurance_Claim.pdf
For any insurance questions (not just NFIP) for homes and businesses, you can call state insurance officials at 800-964-1784 or 802- 828-3302. You can also check their excellent ‘frequently asked questions' page at http://bit.ly/bishcaflood
10. I am a senior citizen. Will I lose my lose Social Security or Medicare benefits, or have to pay additional taxes if I receive FEMA Individual Assistance benefits?
No. Seniors should not worry that receiving federal disaster assistance will jeopardize Social Security payments or Medicare benefits - it will not. Federal disaster assistance is not considered taxable income. This includes grants for temporary housing, home repairs, replacement of damaged personal property and other disaster-related needs, such as medical, dental or transportation costs.
11. Are there other local resources to help me rebuild, or to find an apartment?
Efficiency Vermont can provide advice on replacing damaged insulation and addressing health and safety issues. Also, Efficiency Vermont has financial assistance available for air sealing, replacing insulation, heating and hot water systems as well as rebates on ENERGY STAR® clothes washers, dehumidifiers, and refrigerators. More information at 1-888-921-5990 or www.efficiencyvermont.com
You may also be eligible for a low or deferred interest loan through the local Homeownership Center to help pay for damages not covered by insurance, FEMA or SBA disaster loans.
- Windham and Windsor Housing Trust - 802-246-2109 or www.w-wht.org/homeownership-center/
- NeighborWorks of Western Vermont - 802-438-2303 or www.nwwvt.org
- Central Vermont Community Land Trust - 802-476-4493 or www.cvclt.org
- Chittenden County Homeownership Center - 802-862-6244 or www.getahome.org
- Gilman Housing Trust - 802-535-3445 or www.nekhome.org
Renters who have been displaced can contact the organizations listed above, local housing nonprofits, housing authorities or search for available apartments on www.housingdata.org.
12. Where can I find out more about disaster unemployment benefits?
Federal Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) benefits are available to help Vermonters living, working, or scheduled to work in counties covered by Individual Assistance. The eligibility is much broader than regular unemployment benefits; you may be eligible for DUA if:
- You were injured in the disaster and are unable to work, whether you are an employee or self-employed.
- Your workplace was damaged, destroyed, or you cannot work because of the disaster.
- Your transportation to work is not available.
- You cannot get to your job because you must travel through the impacted area where means of transportation are not available.
- You were about to begin working, but could not because of the disaster.
- You derived most of you income from areas affected by the disaster, and your business is down as a direct result of the disaster.
The disaster assistance period begins August 27, 2011 and ends March 3, 2012. The filing deadline for individuals deemed eligible for assistance is November 21, 2011. The first payable week will be the week ending September 3, 2011.
For more information, call the Vermont Department of Labor's Claim Assistance Line at 1-877-214-3330 or visit www.labor.vermont.gov.
13. I own a business that has suffered flood damage; what Small Business Administration assistance is available?
The Small Business Administration (SBA) provides the following loans for businesses and non-profits:
- Business Physical Disaster Loans: Businesses and nonprofits in all counties except Essex and Grand Isle may be eligible for loans of up to $2 million to help replace or repair damaged real property, machinery, equipment, fixtures, inventory, leasehold improvements, and more. For details, visit: www.sba.gov/content/business-physical-disaster-loans
- Economic Injury Disaster Loans: Small businesses, non-profits and small agricultural co-ops throughout Vermont may be eligible for loans up to $2 million for working capital, even if your property was not damaged by the floods. For details visit: www.sba.gov/content/economic-injury-disaster-loans
Note: The filing deadline for physical property damage has passed; the deadline to return economic injury applications is June 1, 2012.
14. What other resources are available for businesses?
- The Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development can make referrals for business financing and technical assistance, and has information regarding grants for historic properties, properties in designated downtowns, and smaller Vermont-based grant programs. Call 828-3211 or visit www.dca.state.vt.us
- The Vermont Economic Development Authorityis making low-interest loans up to $100,000 for businesses and farms damaged by Irene. For information and application forms visitwww.veda.orgor call 828-5627.
15. I am a farmer, and my farm has suffered damage. How can I get help?
If immediate emergency assistance is needed, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture should be contacted at (802)828-1619 or email email@example.com
Report damages to barns, milking parlors, crops, fields, and equipment by contacting any of the following organizations. They will send a summary of the information to the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, which will share it with Vermont Emergency Management:
- Your county USDA Farm Service Agency office (list of offices here: http://offices.sc.egov.usda.gov/locator/app?state=vt&agency=fsa)
- Your county Natural Resources Conservation Services office (list of offices here: www.vt.nrcs.usda.gov/contact/index.html)
- The Vermont Farm Bureau, at 802-434-5646
- NOFA Vermont, at 802-434-4122
Farmers experiencing loss of crops due to flooding should contact their crop insurance agent as well as the USDA Farm Service Agency (802-6582803).
The Vermont Economic Development Authority has low-interest loans for farms hurt by Hurricane Irene, see above. For information about the agricultural loans, and for application forms, click here: www.veda.org/.
The Vermont Community Foundation has partnered with the Vermont Agency of Agriculture to create the Vermont Farm Disaster Relief Fund, which will pool contributions from donors and will make grants directly to farmers affected by the storm. Visit www.vermontcf.org or call 802-388-3355 for more information.
The Center for an Agricultural Economy in Hardwick has created the Vermont Farm Fund, an emergency loan program that will provide $5,000 loans at zero interest to benefit Vermont farms that have been directly affected by the effects of Hurricane Irene. Call (802) 472-5840, ext 2, or visit www.hardwickagriculture.org
16. I am a mayor, town manager or serve on a selectboard; where do I go to report storm damage, and what help is available now?
Communities should report damages to the Vermont Emergency Management at http://vem.vermont.gov
The Regional Planning Commissions are also helping with emergency management for towns in their region. For contact information for an RPC in your town, go to www.vapda.org/
Your town may be eligible for FEMA's Public Assistance Grant Program, which provides assistance to local governments so communities can quickly respond to and recover from major disasters. Assistance can cover debris removal, emergency protective measures, and the repair, replacement, or restoration of disaster-damaged, publicly-owned and some non-profit facilities. The deadline to apply is Nov. 15.
If your town sustained damage to its roads and/or bridges, the Vermont State Infrastructure Bank (SIB) may be able to assist with a 1 percent loan for repairs and/or reconstruction work while you wait to be reimbursed by Federal emergency funds. More details here: http://veda.org/interior.php/pid/1/sid/46
FEMA also has a Community Disaster Loan Program to provide funds up to $5 million to any eligible jurisdiction in a designated disaster area that has suffered a substantial loss of tax and other revenue. The jurisdiction must demonstrate a need for financial assistance to perform its governmental functions. More information here: www.fema.gov/pdf/government/grant/pa/pdigest08.pdf
17. How do I find the most recent information on road and bridge closures?
For the status of local road and bridge closures, click here: http://maps.ccrpcvt.org/LocalRoadBridgeClosures/
For information on state (but not local) road conditions, call 5-1-1, or visit http://www.511vt.com.
18. My quarterly taxes are due and I can't do the paperwork because of the flood. What do I do?
Vermont's Tax Deadline has been extended: The Vermont Department of Taxes will accept documents for four programs through Sept. 30, rather than requiring all filings by Sept 1. Those programs are property tax adjustment claims, homestead declarations, renter rebate claims, and current use applications. For details, go to www.state.vt.us/tax/index.shtml.
The IRS has postponed until Oct. 31 most deadlines that fall between Aug. 29 and Oct. 31 for taxpayers who reside or have a business in any county except Essex and Grand Isle, including third quarter estimated tax payments normally due Sept. 15. Also, affected taxpayers have the option of claiming disaster-related casualty losses on their federal income tax return for either this year or last year. The IRS will also waive fees and expedite requests for previously filed tax returns for affected taxpayers. For more information on these and other assistance, call the IRS disaster hotline at 1-866-562-5227, or visit your local IRS office for details.
19. Dealing with the flood has taken me into issues where I need legal advice. Where can I obtain legal guidance, or help filing FEMA claims?
Free legal advice may be available. Call 800-889-2047 to speak to attorneys available thanks to a collaboration by the Vermont Bar Association, Vermont Legal Aid, Legal Services Law Line of Vermont and the Vermont Volunteer Lawyers Project. Or check out www.vtlawhelp.org/disaster.
The South Royalton Legal Clinic is helping residents to file FEMA claims from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., Tuesday-Friday, Sept. 6-9, in the Vermont Law School Library. Starting Saturday, Sept. 10-Sept. 30, the clinic will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and 1 p.m. to 7 p.m., Monday-Friday. The South Royalton Legal Clinic also will provide civil legal assistance.
20. Where can I get more information about Vermont's recovery efforts?
You can visit Vermont Emergency Management's website at http://vem.vermont.gov or call 800-347-0488. Vermont Emergency Management also has a FaceBook page with a lot of good information, at www.facebook.com/?ref=hpskip#!/pages/Vermont-Emergency-Management/142566220102
21. I want to help my neighbors and fellow Vermonters who are in need. What can I do?
If you would like to volunteer for disaster recovery efforts, contact the United Way at http://volunteer.truist.com/chittenden/volunteer/register/.
For up-to-date information regarding volunteer opportunities across Vermont, contact http://vtresponse.wordpress.com/
22. Do you still have questions?
Our office is available to assist Vermonters dealing with the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene. If you have a problem that you think we can help with, click here to contact Sen. Bernie Sanders' office or call 1-800-339-9834.