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Local Officials Learn Ins and Outs of FEMA Disaster Program

Nov. 6, 2008 — The conference room of the Florence Williams Library was crowded Thursday with representatives of local governments and non-profit agencies learning the ins and outs of the hurricane relief program getting under way from the Federal Emergency Management Administration.
Representatives from Public Works, WAPA, the Department of Agriculture, Landmarks Society and many more groups were on hand as Jonetta Darden, the territorial public assistance officer, began walking them through the history of the program, how the program works and how to navigate the application process.
"Everything is time sensitive," Darden told the audience, urging them not to delay beginning the application process. "It's better to have it in early than, when everybody leaves, suddenly go, 'Oh shucks! I forgot to file!'"
The first step is submission of a "request for public assistance" within 30 days of the disaster declaration.
The Public Assistance Grant Program provides supplementary financial assistance to state, local and tribal governments and certain qualifying public, non-profit groups that work with them. The federal program provides 75 percent of the costs of the damages to public facilities and services, Darden explained.
Outside the meeting, FEMA coordinating officer Marianne C. Jackson said there had been some confusion about the program, with individuals seeking to apply for grants. In this case, the word "public" in the program title, Public Assistance Grant Program, refers to public entities such as governments, not to individual members of the public, she said.
The low-interest loan program run by the Small Business Administration is the answer for individual homeowners, renters and business people on St. Croix who need assistance in repairing or replacing property lost or damaged in Hurricane Omar.
Homeowners can receive a low-interest (2.875 percent) loan for as much as $200,000 for up to 30 years to repair or replace real property damaged by Omar. Homeowners and renters can also receive as much as $40,000 to repair or replace damaged personal property. And businesses can apply for as much as $2 million for property, equipment and inventory damaged by the hurricane.
Businesses can also apply for an "economic injury disaster loan" for lost business and other economic problems caused by the hurricane.
Deadlines for the SBA loans are Dec. 30, except for the economic injury loan deadline, which is June 30.
"These loans are very, very attractive, and I think Crucians have realized that," Jackson said.

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