Today's deadline for applying for federal assistance in the wake of Hurricane Sandy has created a spike in last-minute interest.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has said more than 260,000 people have sought to register for FEMA assistance in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, but the deadline may be driving some of the final stragglers to recovery centers. While applications had been decreasing in recent weeks, FEMA spokeswoman Robin E. Smith said another 171 people registered for assistance in New Jersey in the 24 hours ending at 11 a.m. Tuesday.

The agency wasn't sure why, she said, but with warmer weather, mold may be appearing in more homes. "It's a problem that may not show up for months, creating damage that wasn't visible prior," Smith said.

Whatever the reason, homeowners or renters who want help from FEMA or loans from the U.S. Small Business Association for Hurricane Sandy damages have until 11:59 p.m. today to apply. The deadline is crucial for anyone who wants to remain eligible for any of the money that will be coming to the state as part of the nearly $60 million aid package that Congress approved in January.

People who have suffered damage in a natural disaster typically have 60 days to register with FEMA. But Hurricane Sandy's massive scale has led officials to extend the deadline three times. It is unlikely the deadline will be extended again.

The state's last FEMA disaster recovery centers are expected to close at 4 p.m. Saturday, reopening 9 a.m. Monday as SBA Disaster Loan Outreach Centers.

Locally, that includes the center adjacent to the Hamilton Mall in Mays Landing, which is open, and the Ocean City Community Center in Ocean City, which closed last Saturday. Once reopened, all of the centers will provide homeowners, renters, business owners and nonprofit organizations with in-person help with completing SBA loan applications, checking their status and closing on them.

Some officials have said they are concerned that less than a fifth of those who would qualify for an SBA loan actually have applied. That agency has approved $719 million in loans to small businesses, renters and homeowners. Registration is important because a person denied an SBA loan may consequently be eligible for additional FEMA money.

Registration is doubly important, as the state is expected to demand homeowners provide a paper trail in order to establish what is the overall true need.

Gov. Chris Christie said the state likely would verify information through databases that FEMA has created through the application process.

In related Sandy recovery news, the state Department of Community Affairs has announced a local rental housing fair designed to return families and individuals to permanent housing. The event is scheduled for 2 to 5 p.m. May 17, in the Atlantic City Convention Center, 1 Convention Blvd., Atlantic City. Registration is recommended at 609-633-6606.

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FEMA how to:

To register for FEMA aid, call 800-621-FEMA between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., or go to

For questions regarding SBA loans, call 800-659-2955 or email

For questions about flood insurance claims or the appeal process, call 800-427-4661