OUR OPINION: FEMA office means aid process to start

Over the weekend as volunteers streamed into Tupelo, they were asked to register at the volunteer coordination center manned by the United Way at the Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau.

A chief reason was to make sure that volunteers got into areas where they were most needed and that some areas weren’t overlooked. But there was also a lot riding on tracking volunteers for local governments, namely money. Volunteer work hours will affect how much in reimbursements the city and county get when federal disaster aid kicks in.

There’s no more sure sign that a major disaster has struck than the opening of a Federal Emergency Management Agency office in your town. Sunday, FEMA opened an office at the Tupelo Water and Light Collections office, 399 Court St., in downtown Tupelo. It will be open every day from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m.

This and the accompanying federal disaster declaration signed last week by President Barack Obama for Lee, Itawamba and several other Mississippi counties are milestones in the recovery process.

Federal disaster relief, in addition to reimbursing local governments for many storm-related expenses, may be critical in the recovery for homeowners, renters and business owners. FEMA will determine eligibility for grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-interest loans from the Small Business Administration, storm-related medical and dental expenses and other disaster-related assistance.

Individuals and business owners can register online at DisasterAssistance.gov or via smartphone at m.fema.gov. Applicants may also call 800-621-3362 or (TTY) 800-462-7585. For those using Video Relay Services, call (800) 621-3362. The toll-free telephone numbers will operate from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week. Lee County and Tupelo residents are encouraged to register online or by phone. Long lines are anticipated at the local site.

Lee County and Tupelo residents should register with FEMA even if they have insurance. FEMA cannot duplicate insurance payments, but under-insured applicants may receive help after their insurance claims have been settled.

Registering with FEMA is required for federal aid, even if a person has registered with another disaster relief organization. FEMA registrants must use the name that appears on their Social Security card.

FEMA will need the registrant’s Social Security number, address of the damaged home or apartment, description of the damage, information about insurance coverage, a telephone number, a mailing address, and a bank account and routing numbers for direct deposit.

Dealing with a government bureaucracy is never fun. But in this case, a little patience could ensure many people’s ongoing financial stability in the wake of last week’s storm.