City assists residents with disaster relief Q&A

Leslie D. Rose @DvilleNewsie
Mayor Leroy Sullivan addresses the crowd of residents at City Hall before opening up the disaster assistance Q&A.

Donaldsonville citizens were given the opportunity to hear from disaster relief specialists from all over the country right in their own back yard – City Hall.

Mayor Leroy Sullivan, who spearheaded the meet and greet and Q&A session, said he felt it was important to give residents accessibility to disaster relief services on the west bank.

We just want to make sure citizens in Donaldsonville are updated with information,” Sullivan said.

Among the recovery services represented was the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP), FEMA, Small Business Administration (SBA) and the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

Also present was Shauna Sanford – press secretary for Gov. John Bel Edwards, who introduced the new sheltering initiatives for Louisiana residents, mainly the Shelter at Home Program.

The Shelter at Home Program is a new program that helps Louisiana residents whose homes flooded to shelter at their own home while they continue to rebuild, rather than relocating to a shelter, hotel or rental property. It evaluates each applicant’s home and, if up to $15,000 of work in that home can create a safe, secure, habitable place for the family to live while they continue their permanent home rebuilding, then that applicant may be eligible for the program. The program is not designed to fully repair the applicant's home and the money used to fix the home will not take away from FEMA settlements.

The program started on Monday, August 29 and as of September 1, 13,500 people have applied,” Sanford said. “In some cases, inspectors have already gone out.”

To the point of the Shelter at Home Program, Mike Steele of GOHSEP reiterated a statement made by Gov. Edwards when the program was first introduced.

We’re trying to make sure you can stay with your schools and churches, and your home,” Steele said.

Introducing services of NFIP was Brian Bartley - hazard mitigation insurance leader. Bartley said that NFIP is available to people in areas where ordinances are in place to support the program. NFIP works with the local floodplain official whose job is to guide residents through permitting.

Bartley was later asked if the flood maps would be updated in light of the storm. He explained that the mapping process occurs over a long a period of time with the most recent maps being created in Nov. 2013. At a Aug. 31 meeting with Gov. Edwards, it was announced that FEMA Region 6 will not initiate new flood map studies in response to the disaster.

Cynthia Cowell of SBA explained how the loan process works. She said that SBA is the primary source of funding after a disaster. Individuals applying for damages for a place other than a permanent home, or those who are ineligible for FEMA grants may call (800) 659-2955 to start the application process. Cowell said applying to FEMA first gets a resident in the system and can save steps. She also said it’s a good idea to apply for an SBA loan even if you have insurance because sometimes SBA can fund you faster. Cowell also noted that SBA loans are not counted as income and they have roughly a 1.5 percent interest rate.

Also present at the meeting were mitigation specialists, representatives from FEMA’s national processing center and a FEMA Disaster Survivor Assistance Team.

We try to establish a timely process as a mobile team that can get to you to collect information to bring back to FEMA, review or assist in claims,” said Disaster Survivor Assistance Team leader, Rose Machor.

The FEMA Disaster Survivor Assistance Team comes equipped with portable devices that assist residents with accessibility needs by going directly to the residents. The team remained on-hand after the meeting.

According to Sullivan, about 25 homes in Donaldsonville sustained some form of flood damage from the storm – about 20 residents showed up to the meeting .