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Official outlines storm-aid procedure

The door opened Tuesday for thousands of people affected byHurricane Katrina to receive federal assistance in theirrecovery.

President Bush added Copiah, Franklin, Lawrence and Lincolncounties to a list already including Pike and Walthall counties,among others in southwest Mississippi, to a declaration authorizingindividual Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance.

Ken Higginbotham, a FEMA public information officer working withseveral counties in this area, said the agency has several programsthat could help residents here recover from the catastrophic damagecaused by the hurricane.

Regardless of the program used, however, it all starts byregistering with the agency by calling 1-800-621-FEMA or byregistering online at www.FEMA.gov, he said.

“No matter what kind of assistance a person needs, that opensthe door for them to receive individual assistance,” Higginbothamsaid.

A Disaster Recovery Center, which will include liverepresentatives from not only FEMA but also other agencies withprograms to assist disaster victims, is being established for thisarea, he said, but “at the moment we only have one open in OceanSprings.”

“These are specialists who will be able to help them withindividual cases,” Higginbotham said.

Specialists at the center can check the status of residents’claims and guide them to the appropriate program representative sothey can receive help, Higginbotham said.

Aid available through FEMA includes a program that provideshousing or reimburses residents who need temporary housing as wellas an other-needs assistance program that covers a broad range ofnecessities.

A key to any disaster-relief program is for residents to keepreceipts for everything they purchase, he said. Housing rentals,hotel rooms, food, medications, clothing, among other items, canpossibly be reimbursed.

“When people are displaced and have to move into a hotel orother form of temporary housing, they may be able to get reimbursedfor that,” Higginbotham said.

Those who rent a living space while displaced can also bereimbursed for up to the first three months. Grants are availablefor home repairs and essential appliances that are not covered bythe homeowner’s insurance plan under the temporary housing program,he said.

The Other Needs Assistance program can reimburse residents forpurchases of medications, funeral expenses related to storm deaths,clothing or other personal property, Higginbotham said.

Low-interest loans up to $200,000 are available to cover thepurchase of a replacement home or home repairs for primaryresidences with an additional $40,000 to assist with rentalproperties. Low-interest loans of up to $1.5 million are availableto help businesses rebuild. In both cases, the program providesassistance for residents who were not fully compensated for theirlosses by their insurance, he said.

“These are generally federally funded programs administered bythe state,” Higginbotham said.