Vacation homes hit by Sandy won't garner FEMA grants

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PHILADELPHIA — Although federal disaster-relief officials have paid out about $200 million to residents displaced by Hurricane Sandy, many storm victims are getting the unwelcome news that they don’t qualify for federal money.

Owners of vacation homes and residents with insurance are not eligible for federal grants, though many may be able to get low-interest federal loans.

“It’s a hierarchy of need,” Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Monday. The first money is going to those with immediate need for shelter and without insurance to cover their losses.

About $199 million has been provided to storm victims in the last week, almost all of it for emergency housing, Fugate said in a briefing with reporters. About 217,000 people have applied for FEMA aid, he said, and the number is growing quickly as new disaster recovery centers open in the areas hit by the storm.

President Barack Obama on Monday added the rest of New Jersey’s counties to his disaster declaration, making residents of all 21 counties eligible to apply for individual federal aid. Previously, 10 counties had been designated as eligible for individual disaster relief.

“All New Jerseyans affected and displaced by Hurricane Sandy should have access to the grants and assistance FEMA has to offer,” U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said after Obama’s announcement. “I am hearing the plight of New Jerseyans from across the state, and it’s my hope that they will take advantage of these federal resources in the weeks and months of recovery ahead.”

Increasingly, the focus will shift from helping storm victims find short-term shelter to longer-range efforts, such as repairing and building homes.

FEMA and state officials encouraged all affected residents, even those with insurance and with second homes, to register with FEMA, because the agency can assist with loans and other aid through other federal agencies.

Fugate emphasized that federal emergency grants are not intended to replace homeowners’ insurance or flood insurance, but to provide immediate shelter and help cover uninsured losses.

Those grants for individual and household assistance cannot exceed $31,900.

Next-door neighbors may find they get very different answers from FEMA when they apply for assistance, depending on their insurance, their primary residence, and their income.

Small Business Administration loans are being made to residents, with much higher caps than the individual housing grants, Fugate said.

Shaun Donovan, secretary of housing and urban development, said HUD workers have made assessments of about 90 percent of public housing units hit by the storm, seeking to avoid evacuations if power and heat can be restored quickly.

And Donovan said he has directed Federal Housing Administration lenders to halt foreclosures for 90 days on homes of those affected by the storm.

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