Thursday, March 6, 1997
FEMA chief
vows fast action

'We can get those checks
out in 5 to 10 days'

The Cincinnati Enquirer

The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) toured Cincinnati's riverfront Wednesday, then pledged a quick turnaround for federal assistance payments to homeowners and businesses with flood damage.

FEMA Director James Lee Witt said his agency is under pressure from the Clinton administration to ''move fast and cut the red tape.''

''And we will do that,'' he said, adding that FEMA has made significant improvements in recent years in getting money and other assistance to people in federal disaster areas.

''It used to take us 30 days before we'd get checks out to people,'' Mr. Witt said. ''Now we can get those checks out in five to 10 days.''

Meanwhile, FEMA agents suggested some residents should be persuaded to move out of areas that suffer chronic flooding.

''We've got a great opportunity, ... if we've got some chronic areas, where the time may be ripe to go in and start talking to property owners,'' said David Skarosi, chief of FEMA's regional office in Chicago.

He spoke to state and local officials at a Wednesday afternoon meeting on cleaning up and preventing problems.

There are old homes in Cincinnati's California neighborhood that flood regularly, City Manager John Shirey said. ''But (residents) are fiercely independent and don't take kindly to talk of buying them out.''

Mr. Witt said some counties in Northern Kentucky and Southeastern Indiana that suffered flood damage have yet to be included on the federal disaster lists but can be added quickly.

Because flooding also will keep many people out of work, Mr. Witt stressed that federal aid includes disaster unemployment relief.

Under such aid, workers who temporarily lost jobs and do not qualify for state benefits can get unemployment payments for up to 26 weeks.

FEMA officials said residents and business owners who sustained losses in counties that are designated federal disaster areas can begin the application process by calling (800) 462-9029.

The hot line is staffed seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Dana DiFilippo contributed to this story.


Federal aid

Federal aid can include:

Grants to help pay for temporary housing. Initial assistance is provided for up to three months for homeowners and at least one month for renters.

Grants for minor home repairs.

Grants to help meet medical, funeral, transportation and other serious disaster-related expenses not covered by insurance or other federal, state and charitable aid programs. The typical grant is $2,500.

Low-interest loans to cover private property losses not fully covered by insurance. Loans of up to $200,000 are available for primary residence and $40,000 for personal property, including renter losses.

Low-interest loans to businesses that suffer damage not fully compensated by insurance. Loans of up to $1.5 million are available to small businesses that have suffered cash-flow problems.

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Entire contents Copyright (c) 1997 by The Cincinnati Enquirer, a Gannett Co. Inc. newspaper.