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$5.7M In Federal Aid Awarded To Iowa Homeowners, Renters Affected By Derecho So Far

Houses destroyed by derecho in rural Iowa
Amanda Colbert
As of September 9, some $5.7 million in federal aid from FEMA and the SBA has been awarded to Iowans impacted by the derecho.

Iowa homeowners and renters affected by the derecho have so far been awarded some $5.7 million in federal aid, officials said Wednesday afternoon. Those funds consist of grants and loans from FEMA and the Small Business Administration, with common needs including home repairs and temporary lodging costs, debris removal and uninsured losses.

Federal and state officials shared the updates on a call with local leaders organized by U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer.

“This week marks a month since the derecho hit. And I know it has been a very long month here in Iowa,” Finkenauer said. “The devastation on the ground immediately after was heartbreaking in so many ways and we want to make sure that everybody who’s on this call from other counties who, outside of Linn County, who are affected have what they need.”

FEMA individual assistance largely helping with housing

As of Wednesday afternoon, 856 Iowa households had been awarded $2.968 million in grants under the FEMA individual assistance program, which has been approved for 11 counties impacted by the historic wind storm that battered the state on August 10.

So far, the funds have been largely covering housing-related costs, says the agency’s Tracy Aupperlee.

“Housing assistance can be provided in rental assistance, which is two months’ worth of rental assistance at the fair market rent rate for the county in which it’s provided, and additional can be requested. It’s also for home repair funds for uninsured and underinsured homeowners to make their homes habitable. And then it’s also for lodging expense reimbursement, for families who may have needed to stay in a hotel,” Aupperlee said.

Individual assistance funds can also be used to replace personal property, as well as to cover medical, dental and funeral costs related to the disaster.

Some common reasons why applications may be delayed or denied include issues with verifying an applicant’s identity or their place of residence.

If Iowans’ applications are denied, they are encouraged to call FEMA at 1-800-621-3362 to clear up any technical or clerical issues, rather than submitted a new request for aid.

The agency has opened a disaster recovery center in Cedar Rapids at 950 Rockford Road SW, in the parking lot outside Kernels Stadium, where residents can get in-person assistance and drop off documents.

State and federal officials are also looking at opening other such help centers in other affected counties, where there are often greater barriers to transportation and internet access.

Small Business Association also helps renters, homeowners

Despite its title, the Small Business Administration has primarily been providing low interest loans to renters and homeowners in the wake of the derecho. Some 85 loans have been awarded to Iowa households so far, for a total of $2.71 million, according to an agency spokesperson.

Those funds can be used to cover insurance deductibles and tree removal, costs which have been significant for many residents impacted by the storm.

“If your house is underinsured or uninsured or your deductible is too high, we can help fill in that gap. This is just for uninsured losses,” said the SBA’s Cynthia Cowell.

“As far as tree removal, we can do that,” Cowell continued. “It would be part of the debris removal portion of your loan. When your loan is approved, we tell you exactly what the money is to be spent on and debris removal is one of the items you can use.”

SBA loans of up to $2 million are also available for business owners regardless of the size of their operation, as well as for private nonprofits. The funds can help cover damage to real estate, machinery and other assets.

Those in counties that neighbor the counties included in the presidential disaster declaration can also apply for economic injury disaster loans.

Farm Service Agency sees demand for help with grain storage

Meanwhile, farmers are continuing to seek help for their own damage assessments, debris removal and grain storage solutions.

With harvest season approaching, many producers are eager to complete needed repairs and reconstruction efforts. The USDA Farm Service Agency can provide help, says Iowa Executive Director Amanda De Jong, but she warns backlogs are already building.

“We are getting a lot of significant interest, particularly in that Tama, Benton, Linn County areas,” for financing or rebuilding grain bins De Jong said.

“I do know there is a backlog, if you will, obviously of getting crews in to get these built before harvest, to get supplies into the state before harvest," she added. "But we can and are doing a lot of lending in that area right now.”

De Jong says FSA staff are working through loan applications as quickly as they can, for disaster loans and for standard operating loans, which may carry actually carry a lower interest rate.

“We are working through those applications just as fast as we can,” she said. “The very first place to call is our county office to get the application started.”

More information on federal disaster aid is available at disasterassistance.gov.

For help with state disaster services, go to disasterrecovery.iowa.gov.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter