FEMA: Major disaster declaration signals more fed assistance
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — American Samoa Government entities including semi autonomous agencies, that suffered damage from Tropical Storm Gita will not communicate their reports and costs directly to federal entities, but to the Governor’s Authorized Representative (GAR), according to policies set by Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga, whose request for a US President major disaster declaration following Gita was approved last Friday.
Lolo and the White House made separate announcements last Friday about US President Donald J. Trump approving a major disaster declaration for American Samoa, paving the way for federal assistance to the territory.
Federal assistance “can include” grants for temporary housing and home repairs, as well as funding to the government and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis, according to a White House news release, which also states that the federal assistance is to supplement territory recovery efforts in the areas affected by “Tropical Storm Gita from Feb. 7 to Feb. 12th”.
Gita left behind devastation on Tutuila on Feb. 9th, but on Feb. 7th and 8th, a monsoonal trough caused severe flooding, and closure of all public schools and many private schools. And as Gita moved away, the lingering effects of the storm as well as another weather system brought more strong winds and heavy rain for three-days.
According to the White House, the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will announce in the coming days the opening of the Disaster Recovery Center where residents and business owners who sustained losses due to the storm can begin applying for assistance.
Additionally, local government is planning an orderly process to assist all survivors and will provide details through community and media channels.
In announcing the major disaster declaration approval, the governor said details of federal programs available under the declaration were to be made available at a later date by Lt. Gov. Lemanu Sialega Palepoi Mauga, who is also the GAR to FEMA for this disaster. (See Samoa News online Saturday, Mar. 3 and Sunday, Mar. 4th for details.)
POLICIES & PROCEDURES
In a letter last Friday to his cabinet members, the governor outlined “disaster policies, protocols and procedures” for all to follow, saying it’s “imperative” that ASG entities are on the same page regarding information and numbers submitted to FEMA and other federal assistance agencies connected to the Gita disasters.
According to Lolo, all ASG entities including semi autonomous agencies will channel all damage assessment reports and claims to the GAR/Deputy GAR (who is Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo Ale) for review and verification prior to submission to the federal agencies.
“This means that direct contact with FEMA or other federal agencies is discouraged and would constitute violation of this policy,” the governor wrote. “The GAR/ Deputy GAR will determine your degree of involvement in any discussions with FEMA or other federal agencies.”
Lolo asked his cabinet members “to clearly and accurately articulate your needs” to the GAR/ Deputy GAR.
He explained that these activities would be conducted in close collaboration with the ASG Disaster Coordinating Officer — local Homeland Security director, Samana Semo Ve’ave’a — and the designated agencies to support the preparation of documents compliant with federal requirements.
Additionally, the GAR will communicate to FEMA that all payment of claims submitted by ASG entities will be transmitted to the general government for subsequent distribution through the ASG Treasury Department.
Furthermore, appropriate process and procedures will be prepared and issued by Treasury to ensure that funds paid on damages will be promptly repatriated to the relevant department, office or authority.
Insurance Commissioner, Peter Fuimaono “will work closely with the GAR on our insurance claims,” said Lolo, adding that the “same policy is applied on the transmittal of damage assessment reports to prepare our overall government insurance claim to be sent to our insurer."
KEY FEDERAL DISASTER AID PROGRAMS
In a fact-sheet released last Friday, FEMA provided a summary of key federal disaster aid programs that can be made available as needed and warranted under Trump’s disaster declaration issued for the territory.
Assistance for affected individuals and families can include as required, rental payments for temporary housing for those whose homes are unlivable. Initial assistance may be provided for up to three months for homeowners and at least one month for renters. This program is fully funded and administered by FEMA.
Repairs Not Covered by Insurance
Possible grant funding for home repairs and replacement of essential household items not covered by insurance to make damaged dwellings safe, sanitary and functional. FEMA funds and administers this program.
FEMA also funds and ASG administers, a program in which unemployment payments up to 26 weeks for workers who temporarily lost jobs because of the disaster and who do not qualify for territory benefits, such as self-employed individuals.
Grant funding to replace personal property and help meet medical, dental, funeral, transportation and other serious disaster-related needs not covered by insurance or other federal, territory and charitable aid programs. For this program, FEMA funds 75% of total eligible costs with 25% by American Samoa.
US Small Business Administration Programs
There are low-interest loans to cover residential losses not fully compensated by insurance; another program, provides loans up to $2 million for small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives and most private, non-profit organizations of all sizes that have suffered disaster-related cash flow problems and need funds for working capital to recover from the disaster's adverse economic impact
Assistance to the American Samoa Government includes debris removal and emergency protective measures to save lives and protect property. The federal government pays not less than 75% of the eligible costs while ASG is responsible for the balance.
American Red Cross says they are continuing to provide casework assistance based on ASG’s Damage Assessment List, which is the original list given to them. Additionally, Red Cross continues to contact households on the ASG Damage Assessment list, and schedule appointment based casework sessions with families Red Cross has not met with yet.
ASG’s original list is based on the first joint disaster assessment carried out the week of Feb. 12th by the local government and its federal partners.
The second assessment — conducted only by ASG — began last week and was scheduled to end by no later than yesterday, Monday, Mar. 5, as noted in an ASDHS Special Bulletin, dated Sunday, Mar. 4 — and this assessment was to cover all villages on Tutuila, Aunu’u and Manu’a.