Monday is the last day for residents affected by Hurricane Sandy to register for aid through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
While the deadline has been extended several times at the request of the Christie administration, the state wants to ensure homeowners who have not yet registered do so.
Why? Some of the proposed grants under the $1.8 billion in federal storm aid the state is receiving may require that homeowners have registered in order to be eligible, whether or not they qualified for FEMA’s help. To register, homeowners are advised to visit FEMA.gov or call 800-621-3362.
The state has proposed that a third of the $1.8 billion allocation go to primary homeowners in grants of as much as $150,000 each to raise, rebuild or otherwise floodproof their homes. But one of the eligibility requirements listed in the state’s draft spending proposal is that residents must have registered with FEMA, according to the plan.
Since Oct. 29, when Hurricane Sandy struck, 21,725 people in Atlantic County have registered with FEMA, with 8,492 receiving some type of aid, spokeswoman Mary Margaret Walker said. In Ocean County, which includes the hardest hit portions of the state, 54,280 have registered, with 22,135 receiving some type of assistance.
Homeowners who are eligible for most of the proposed aid grants must have lived in the house prior to Sandy and the house must be their primary residence. These are the same requirements to qualify for FEMA assistance, Walker said. “If all of those are true, we would encourage them to register.”
Requiring homeowners to register for FEMA in order to be eligible for the housing grants is not unusual, said Olga Alvarez, spokeswoman for the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, Region 2 office.
FEMA’s role is to help with the immediate aftermath of a disaster, including finding people a safe and clean place to live and to help some owners with immediate repairs. HUD’s role is to help rebuilding efforts in the long-term, beyond what FEMA provides, Alvarez said.
DCA issued its spending plan draft two weeks ago and still needs to make revisions before submitting to HUD. There is no way to apply for the grants until HUD approves the plan.
A substantial portion of many of the grants proposed will go to low- to moderate-income households, according to the plan. In Atlantic and Cape May counties, a moderate-income household is classified as four-person household with an income of $50,987 per year.
In January, Christie adopted the advisory base flood maps as the state standard for rebuilding, which was a first step toward meeting tougher federal building standards for houses in flood zones. The maps added about 33,000 homes to a flood zone based on the new elevations and vastly expanded the highest risk velocity zones because an engineering study still has to be completed.
Christie said last week he expects aspects of the maps will be revised when preliminary maps are released this summer as part of FEMA’s five-year effort to update the flood insurance maps such that they reflect the actual risk homeowners face.
However, Bill McDonnell, FEMA’s deputy director of hazard mitigation, told The Press of Atlantic City last week that the agency is “pretty confident” regarding the advisory map elevations, but the velocity zones could shrink because the wave analysis study will be complete.
Several funding opportunities exist for homeowners who need to raise their houses, including a payout from flood insurance policies of up to $30,000, called an “increased cost of compliance” payment. In order for residents to be eligible for that payment, they must already have flood insurance and their community must adopt the advisory base flood maps into the municipal flood code, Walker said.
“That is because the program is intended to help people meet the increased cost of compliance with local ordinances,” Walker said.
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