Saturday, March 8, 1997
Resources for flood victims

Federal aid

FEDERAL HELP: James Lee Witt, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), pledged that federal assistance payments would be made quickly - within five to 10 days - to Tristate homeowners and businesses with flood-related damage.

Qualified owners must live in designated federal disaster areas.

Federal aid can include:

  • Grants to help pay for temporary housing.

  • Grants for minor home repairs.

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

To begin the application process, call the FEMA hot line, 1-800-462-9029. It is staffed 8 a.m.-8 p.m. daily.

TAX RELIEF: People whose homes or property were damaged by storms and flooding may be able to get an immediate tax refund from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

To claim the loss on your 1996 return, your area must be declared a federal disaster area.

People need to claim a tax deduction called a Nonbusiness Casualty Loss. If you've already filed and want to claim the loss, you can file a 1040X form to amend your claim.

For more information, order IRS Publication 547 ''Nonbusiness Disasters, Casualties and Thefts;'' Publication 584 ''Nonbusiness Disaster and Theft Workbook;'' and Form 4684 ''Casualties and Thefts'' by calling 1-800-829-3676.

If tax records have been damaged or destroyed, reconstruct them as completely as possible. Copies of W-2s can be obtained from employers, and banks and other financial institutions should be able to replace 1099 forms that they issued.

File IRS Form 4868 no later than April 15 to receive an automatic four-month filing extension on your 1996 return. The extension allows you to avoid a late filing penalty.

Information on claiming business losses is in IRS Publication 334 ''Tax Guide for Small Business.''

AVOIDING SCAMS Tips from experts on common scams that follow a natural disaster, and how to avoid them:

  • Transient contractors and fly-by-night remodelers are drawn to disaster areas. Deal with local or area businesses. For guidance, contact the Better Business Bureau or state attorney general's consumer protection division.

  • Insist on a written contract that includes all supplies, description of work and costs. Get several estimates.

  • Never pay up front. Limit the amount of ''progress payments'' to value of work already finished.

  • Deal with local lenders. Never pay advance fee for ''guaranteed'' loan.

  • Beware of charities purporting to collect for victims. Ask for I.D.

  • Demand identification of people representing themselves as government officials. Con artists may pose as building inspectors and order immediate repairs they can do on the side.

  • For information, contact the Cincinnati Better Business Bureau (BBB): 421-3015. The BBB covers Greater Cincinnati counties in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.