Caveat: This is Individual Assistance training only—Community Relations-specific training will come later in the week—but the two get cross-trained, so IA/CR people will need to know both areas.
Caveat Emptor: All things in this blog come with the tag “As best I understand it”, because this is confusing. Also, all of this info comes out of Gigantic Binder No. 2, “Applicant Services Program Specialist Student Manuel”. Don’t sue me.
-I went over the disaster declaration process in yesterday's post, but just in case, here it is again: disaster happens locally, local authority kicks it up to the state level, who kicks it up to FEMA, who kicks it to the President, who signs a disaster declaration that allows FEMA to help with the disaster.
-SEQUENCE OF DELIVERY. This is HUGE. It’s a seven-step process that each disaster survivor goes through after registering with FEMA and letting us know what they need. It is the foundation of what IA Specialists do. Here it is in steps.
1. The applicant goes to the volunteer agencies that show up after a disaster to get their basic emergency needs met, if any. Think food, clothing, shelter, emergency medical needs.
2. After that, they go to the insurance companies and get what they’re due. This would be homeowners’ insurance, the National Flood Insurance Program, whatever’s applicable. Straight quote from the binder: “FEMA cannot provide assistance until other forms of assistance, such as insurance, have been exhausted.”
3. If your insurance doesn’t cover everything, you go to FEMA Housing Assistance (HA). They’ll inspect your home for damages and award you money for repairs to or replacement of your home (the latter if it was condemned or damaged beyond repair). If your home is in a ridiculously remote location where construction companies aren’t, like the Alaskan hinterlands, they will actually build you a new house—but only in those rare circumstances. The watchwords are “safe, sanitary, functional”: they’ll give you funding to make your home those, but won’t pay for luxuries.
4. That money, however, is only for housing. Next is FEMA/State Other Needs Assistance, inevitably called ONA (pronounced Oh-nuh). This step takes care of medical, dental and funeral expenses, and a few others.
5. Here’s another confusing one. The Small Business Administration (SBA) gives low-interest loans to people for a) home and personal property, b) business physical loss or c) economic injury. That… actually was fairly straightforward. See why blogs like this are a good resource?
6. If they get the SBA loan, fantastic, they’re good. If they don’t, it’s time for another round of FEMA/State ONA assistance! This time it’s for expenses related to personal property, moving and storage of items (to get away from floodwaters, say), transportation and so forth.
7. If after all that they still have unmet needs, the applicant is kicked back to voluntary agencies who’ll help ‘em out.
That’s the end of the Sequence, but there are yet more agencies (and acronyms) who’re available to help out disaster survivors. Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) supplements but doesn’t supplant regular unemployment. The latter covers people at normal jobs, while the former covers the self-employed or farm workers (or whoever) that were rendered unable to work by the disaster. The Crisis Counseling Program (CCP, not to be confused with CCCP, the defunct Communist superpower) is what it sounds like: disaster survivors’ counseling. Disaster Legal Services (DLS) are free legal services for survivors, and Disaster Case Management (DCM) is to help people navigate their way through the last 400 words, because Lord knows I would need that.
-Privacy Act: This one is simple. Personal information that you take in is private. If you misuse it or let it get stolen, the FBI will hunt you down and bite your nose off. #incentive
-Oh, I forgot this: Both the HA and ONA are under the umbrella of the IHP (Individual and Households Program). The maximum dollar amount an applicant can get is $31,400 for all programs under that umbrella; they could get X dollars to fix their house and Y for rental expenses, but it all has to stay under the $31,400 ceiling. The amount changes with the fiscal year. How and why it does that is dark magic beyond our mortal ken; do not inquire, lest it claim your life.
-Duties of an IA specialist: Answer questions about disaster recovery, about letters from FEMA, about housing assistance and rental resources (places that disaster survivors can rent. I speak bureaucrat), complete forms, talk to the JFO or register people with FEMA (more like tell them how to register).
-About the DRC: The Disaster Recovery Center is supposed to be a “one-stop shop” for everything. IA specialists work there. The SBA is there. Voluntary agencies will be there. The idea is that everything will get taken care of in one swell foop.
-IMPORTANT WARNING THING, NOTICE THIS: It is not CR’s place, when we’re out in the field, to hint or lead people to expect that they’ll be eligible for whatever kind of benefits. Even if their house has been totally flattened, it’s possible that they won’t get money to repair/replace it. Maybe it’s their vacation home or something and isn’t eligible. We don’t know. But anything we say could create false expectations, so don’t. You can say “You may be eligible for YYZ”, but not “You will (or should) be eligible for ABQ”.
Other big thing to remember in general, as a guiding principle: FEMA pays for stuff when there’s no other source. HA only kicks in when insurance doesn’t work; ONA only kicks in after the SBA has denied a loan. (The second time ONA appears in the chain, anyway; there really should be a different acronym for that.)
This is a basic overview. There is a lot of other stuff and a lot of other details that you have to know, but this should be a decent foundation for the rest of the class. Tips: don’t let the acronyms get you down, use your common sense and take lots of notes.