Governor urges cabinet to complete damage assessments for FEMA ASAP
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — With the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) winding down its local operations, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has urged cabinet members, who oversee ASG property damaged by Tropical Storm Gita, to complete their respective assessments while FEMA officials are still on island.
So far ASG has 39 applicants for about 98 projects, which include public infrastructure such as facilities and buildings, FEMA public information officer, Victor Inge told Samoa News yesterday.
According to the Governor’s Office, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga called an emergency cabinet meeting last Wednesday and the focus was on the Gita report. Cabinet members were urged by Lolo to make sure all damage assessments have been completed and verified before FEMA departs.
The governor stressed the importance of having their applications for funding from FEMA submitted as soon as possible.
Because public assistance for the government, following the storm, is still an ongoing process, total amount of losses is not yet available but ASG officials told Samoa News yesterday that the government continues to work closely with FEMA to ensure that all backup information and documents, and data to support the application for disaster assistance, are submitted right away.
In the aftermath of the storm on Feb. 9th, there were “over 90 federal staff” — including FEMA — on island at the peak of federal deployment, said Inge, who has been on the ground since two days after Gita.
But as recovery efforts wind down, federal staff numbers are down to 37 as of last Friday and this number is expected to be reduced by next week, he explained.
FEMA federal coordinating officer Benigno Bern Ruiz “would like to wish everyone well’ and he thanked all of the people in ASG and everyone throughout American Samoa that played a role in assisting and bringing disaster assistance to the survivors of Gita,” said Inge during a Samoa News interview yesterday.
Inge also shared that FEMA registered 7,816 individuals impacted by the storm at the Disaster Recovery Center, which officially closed on May 19th and transitioned into the US Small Business Administration’s Disaster Loan Outreach Center (DLOC).
There were 15,516 visits to the DRC and more than 7,000 of them were repeat visitors, who returned for various reasons such as providing documents needed.
For public assistance, “we approved more than $19.8 million — $13 million of which was for housing assistance,” primarily to help with damage to the home and to make the home safe and sanitary, Inge explained.
“Our partners at SBA approved more than $6.6 million in low interest disaster loans and another $662,000 for businesses for economic injury — businesses that faced economic loss due to the storm,” he said.
SBA’s Director Tanya N. Garfield of the SBA’s Disaster Field Operations Center-West said two weeks ago that although the deadline to apply for property damage loans has expired, small businesses and most private nonprofit organizations of any size may continue to apply for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan to help meet working capital needs caused by the disaster.
“Economic injury assistance is available regardless of whether the business or nonprofit organization suffered any property damage,” she said, adding that the deadline to submit an Economic Injury Disaster Loan application is Dec. 3, 2018.
Between FEMA and SBA, the two federal agencies have approved over $26 million for those impacted by Gita. And Inge said this is a “pretty significant” help to assist disaster survivors in the territory.
As FEMA winds down its work, Inge said, “the main thing we’re doing now is, we’re encouraging people to prepare for the next storm, because it’s not a matter of if it happens, it's when the next storm happens,” he said.
FEMA also issued a reminder that applicants may still get help by contacting: Helpline 699-2018; and online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov
Additionally, an applicant can appeal FEMA decisions. If you disagree with a decision letter from FEMA, you have 60 days from the date of the letter to appeal the decision. A letter that says you are ineligible for benefits may only mean that you need to provide additional information. Call the Helpline at 699-2018 for assistance. (See Samoa News May 9th edition for specific details.)
Furthermore, the SBA’s DLOC, located inside the DYWA Pago Youth Center, is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday and from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays.