OPINION: Do not overlook Federal Disaster Assistance

Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez (D-Northern Brooklyn)

Hurricane Sandy left a trail of devastation in New York City, destroying homes and businesses, flooding tunnels and highways, leaving more than 800,000 customers without power, and ultimately causing billions in damage.  While recovering from this storm will be challenging, it is important to remember that the federal government stands ready to assist renters, homeowners, non-profits and businesses.

If your home or business has suffered damages, large or small, you should contact the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  They are the gateway to a wide-range of more than 70 services and resources from nearly 20 federal agencies.  You can register and learn about the range of available services at or by phone at 1-800-621-FEMA. 

When contacting FEMA to register, you will need to have your Social Security number, a description of your losses, and insurance information at the ready.  Soon after, the agency will visit your property to assess your damages, and shortly thereafter determine your eligibility.  It is important to understand that federal assistance is only available for uninsured losses or damages. 

Depending on your specific situation, you may be eligible for housing needs assistance directly from FEMA that can be used to make your house safe and sanitary.   You may also be eligible for other than housing needs assistance, which can be used to pay emergency medical, energy, and clothing costs. 

For many individuals, however, the primary form of financial assistance will come from the Small Business Administration (SBA), which makes long-term, low-interest loans that can be used to repair or replace disaster-damaged real estate or personal property.  

After registering with FEMA, you can apply for SBA assistance online at or contact SBA directly at 1-800-659-2955 to learn more about loan terms and requirements.  Homeowners and renters, businesses of all sizes, and private, non-profit organizations such as churches and charities are eligible to apply.  For borrowers without access to any other credit elsewhere SBA disaster loans have an interest rate of 1.67 percent for homeowners and renters, 4 percent for businesses, and 3 percent for non-profits.   

For many individuals with uninsured damage, these loans, which can have a term of up to 30 years, can provide a financially manageable means to make repairs.  SBA’s private sector partners are also offering financing to small companies struggling with the uncertainty created by the storm.  More information on these alternatives can be found at  Taken together, these options provide individuals and businesses with several different means to secure financing for repair and reconstruction.

After talking to the residents in our communities, it is clear that this type of assistance is not the “be-all-end-all,” but it has made a real difference during previous disasters and it is important that you to consider it if you find yourself in need.  While many of our neighborhoods have suffered devastating damage and loss, New Yorkers are resilient and we will emerge stronger than ever.

November 14, 2012 - 1:24pm


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