SPRINGFIELD - Last week, several Illinois Congress members filed federal legislation to make the Federal Emergency Management Agency's distribution of disaster funds fairer. But one FEMA official is concerned that Illinois tornado survivors may get the wrong impression and not take advantage of the federal relief that's available to them right now.
"Please let your readers that were affected by the tornado last November know that time is running out for them to get the assistance that's now available to them," said Tim Tyson, head of FEMA's External Affairs office in Springfield.
The deadline for tornado victims - home owners, renters or business owners - to apply for federal assistance is February 3, 2014. The financial assistance process begins with acquiring a FEMA loan packet from a local or state office, and returning that application by the deadline.
"The people need to know that financial help is available now, and in order to obtain any assistance, the process begins with that application," Tyson said. "They don't need to act on that loan or grant approval for months, but they must apply before the deadline in order to qualify."
The FEMA assistance application first goes to the Small Business Association, which distributes loans with two percent interest rates. If the SBA rejects the application, it does not affect a person's credit rating, but the rejection does allow the applicant to then be considered for a FEMA grant, which requires no payback.
Thus far, Tyson said, victims of the November tornado have received $18 million in assistance - $2.4 million in FEMA grants and over $16 million in SBA low-interest loans. Neither FEMA nor SBA assistance may duplicate insurance recovery funds, but may supplement what other insurance did not cover.
Tyson said that home or business owners may not fully detect property damages until spring, when structures warm up and damage makes itself evident. In addition, FEMA resources may provide remedy for personal property or automobile damaged by the high winds or the tornado itself and not covered by other insurance.
But what about the Congress members' claims of unfair formulas in Illinois pertaining to FEMA disaster relief?
"We are here to implement the federal law as it now stands," Tyson told Illinois Review. "We have no comment about the changes to the law Congress may be considering. We just want to make sure people aren't discouraged when hearing about the proposed formula changes, and not apply for what's available to them now."