Hundreds Seek Hurricane Help From The Feds With AM-Bush-Hugo, Bjt
CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) _ Some hurricane survivors seeking federal dollars to help rebuild homes and businesses said Friday they were frustrated by the red tape and government response.
″I’m angry,″ said Shannon Chevrier, 24, who was told it would take two months for her applications for assistance to be processed. ″I’m out of work and out of money. I need help now, not two months from now.″
Miss Chevrier, who works for a bookkeeping company that has been shut down since Hurricane Hugo hit last week, was one of hundreds of people who sought help at one of five emergency centers set up by the Federal Emeregency Management Agency.
She called the effort too little, too late.
″In something like this, I would expect a quicker response from the federal government,″ she said.
FEMA has set up the centers to help residents apply for cash grants, low- interest loans and jobless benefits. They can also seek answers to questions about insurance claims, how to claim losses on tax forms and register complaints about price gouging.
But for many, cutting through a tangle of government red tape is just the latest hardship spawned by the storm which crashed into Charleston with 135 mph winds.
There have been complaints that there are too few centers and that the process is too slow. The first centers did not open until Thursday - a full week after the storm hit.
″I thought they were kidding about the paperwork. It’s ridiculous,″ said Genie VanBenschoten, 26, holding a packet of forms she needed to fill out and return.
Those who came to one center Friday were given applications and scheduled for an appointment. Some will not be seen until Oct. 10.
″Most of these people have lost everything. I feel for them but this process is necessary,″ FEMA manager Shirley Caraway said.
Before visiting South Carolina on Friday, President Bush signed legislation making $1.1 billion available to Hugo’s victims in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Carolinas.
Presidential spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said Bush had also directed that FEMA open four more offices in Charleston and that the 200 employees taking requests for aid be increased by to process applications more quickly.
FEMA can provide loans of up to $100,000 to repair or replace homes; up to $20,000 to replace personal property and up to $500,000 for businesses.
Also available are funds for temporary housing, rental assistance and individual and family grants for needs not covered by insurance.
Ron Ruffennach, a FEMA spokesman, said whether individuals are awarded grants or low-interest loans is based on income.
One FEMA center is handling about 60 people every two hours and officials say by Saturday they will handle 90 people within two hours.
Those who need immediate help are referred to the Red Cross or Salvation Army, which have representatives at the center. The Red Cross can issue vouchers for food, clothing, shelter, towels, soap or other necessities.
Some people expected immediate help from the government, but FEMA officials said claims must be processed and verified before taxpayers dollars are released.
People filing emergency unemployment claims may wait for two to three weeks. Officials would not say how long it might take for small business loans to be forthcoming.
″You don’t come in today and get a check tomorrow,″ said Jean King, of the South Carolina Employment Security Commission.
″Rumors and misinformation have been rampant,″ said Kathryn Kidd of the University of South Carolina Sociology Department, who was assisting FEMA.
Some of those waiting in line were also skeptical about President Bush’s appearance Friday in some storm-damaged areas.
″He’s about seven days late. There’s no use coming when everything’s over,″ said George Witham, 76, whose home on James Island was demolished in the storm.